Thursday, March 24, 2005

Authorities seek ways to stop spread of Methamphetamine

The Unnecessary Epidemic reaches New England:

CONCORD, N.H. — Citing growing evidence that methamphetamine has spread well beyond western states where it originated, authorities want to develop strategies for minimizing the highly addictive drug´s presence in New Hampshire.

"In other areas of the country oftentimes what has happened is they went from nothing to a very serious epidemic overnight," said Joe Harding, director of the state office of alcohol and drug policy. "This hasn´t happened in New Hampshire yet. What do we need to do to prevent it?"

Cheap and easily cooked up with supplies from drug and hardware stores, meth first started on the West Coast but didn´t reach national attention until it reached the Midwest, where it quickly took devastating hold over rural towns and cities.

Meth has not reached the same level in New Hampshire but authorities are worried that it could. Lawmakers, drug treatment workers and law enforcement officials plan to meet Thursday in Bedford to discuss meth´s reach in New Hampshire and ways to prevent its spread.

"It´s way behind heroin cocaine and marijuana at this point and we´d like to keep it that way," said Kevin McCarthy, a senior investigator on the New Hampshire Drug Task Force. "It´s a potential problem because it´s a very volatile drug."

Meth-related admissions to state-contracted drug treatment centers rose from 16 in 2001 to 30 in 2002 and 43 in 2004, Harding said.

Ray McGarty, executive director of Southeastern New Hampshire Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services in Dover, said the last three months have seen an uptick in calls on meth.

"We´ve started to see substantial increases," he said. "Multiple calls a week and then it´s being reflected in about 3 to 5 percent of our admissions."

McGarty said cocaine treatment admissions also have risen recently _ a sign that drug users are beginning to switch from heroin, an opiate, back to stimulants.

"We´re pretty on top of the switches when they start to happen," McGarty said. "Our patient population switched from cocaine to heroin literally overnight three years ago," he said. "Now we´re starting to see this slow shift back to cocaine and meth."

According to a study of federal drug use surveys by the Center for Substance Abuse Research, New Hampshire has the highest rate of meth treatment rates in the Northeast. That figure _ seven treatment admissions in 100,000, is far below meth hotspots like Oregon, Hawaii, California, Iowa, Wyoming and Nevada. In comparison, Maine and Vermont reported four meth treatment admissions per 100,000.

Meth seems to defy demographic boundaries _ scores of mothers, long-distance truck drivers, college students, homosexuals and dieters are said to be drawn to the drug´s rapid, euphoric high, appetite suppressing effect and energy surge that can keep users hyped up and sleepless for days.

Meth abuse prevention is the No. 1 drug issue states are asking about, "with a number two not even in sight," said Allison Colker, senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislators, which is presenting Thursday´s meeting.

Some states have acted to limit access to the store-bought ingredients that go into meth production. In Iowa on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Vilsack signed a bill restricting the sale of over-the-counter drugs containing pseudoephedrine, a meth ingredient. The law is the toughest to date, requiring customers to show identification and sign a log sheet when they buy the products and limiting the amount they can buy. Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky also have laws restricting pseudoephedrine-containing products.

Vermont lawmakers are considering a bill to limit the amount of ingredient chemicals residents would be allowed to possess. Only one meth lab has been broken up in Vermont so far, but state police and health officials have been briefing local emergency responders and other officials on the problem. State police recently arrested a man found with 700 pounds of ephedrine.

Besides meth´s addictive aspect, home meth labs are hazards to children and others. "From the production standpoint it is a really big problem because of the whole danger issue," Colker said. Children can be poisoned by chemical residue left by meth production; labs are brimming with flammable materials.

McCarthy, of the task force, says there are few meth labs in New Hampshire. "We are seeing evidence that it comes here by the mail, some kind of shipment," he said.

But Vermont authorities pointed east when asked about the state´s meth source. "We´ve had cases in the past where the methamphetamine in fact was coming out of New Hampshire," said Capt. Thomas L´Esperance, head of special investigations for the Vermont State Police, who added that New York is also a source for the drug.

From the Drug Enforcement Administration:

The spread of Methamphetamine eastward is demonstrated in the two graphics above. Now the Unnecessary Epidemic has become a national problem.

Congress must act to better interdict the precursor chemicals and to limit their importation by criminal cartels.

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