NEWSWEEK COVER: The Meth Epidemic - Inside America's New Drug Crisis

White House Focus on Marijuana in Anti-Drug Efforts Seen as Out of Touch by

Those on Front Line of Meth War; Meth 'Is an Epidemic and a Crisis

Unprecedented,' says Narcotics Official In Hard-Hit Oregon

Hospital Burn Centers Overwhelmed With Victims

of Meth Lab Explosions

Jul 31, 2005, 01:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, July 31 /PRNewswire/ -- The Bush administration has made
 marijuana the major focus of its anti-drug efforts, both because there are so
 many users (an estimated 15 million Americans) and because it considers pot a
 "gateway" to the use of harder substances. But those fighting on the front
 lines of the drug war say the White House is out of touch and the focus should
 be on methamphetamine abuse. "It hurts the federal government's credibility
 when they say marijuana is the No. 1 priority," says Deputy District Attorney
 Mark McDonnell, head of narcotics in Portland, Ore., which has been especially
 hard hit by meth. Meth, he says, "is an epidemic and a crisis unprecedented."
     (Photo: )
     In the August 8 Newsweek cover "The Meth Epidemic" (on newsstands Monday,
 August 1), West Coast Editor David J. Jefferson examines how methamphetamine,
 once derided as "poor man's cocaine," popular mainly in rural areas on the
 West Coast, has seeped into the mainstream in its steady march across America.
 Newsweek also looks at the efforts being made, both nationally and in
 communities, to combat the scourge. The highly addictive stimulant is hooking
 more and more people across the socioeconomic spectrum, from soccer moms to
 computer geeks to factory workers.
     In a July 18 speech to district attorneys, Attorney General Alberto
 Gonzalez said that "in terms of damage to children and to our society, meth is
 now the most dangerous drug in America."  Members of Congress whose districts
 have been ravaged by the drug are forcing the issue. "To the extent that we
 have to choose between fighting meth and marijuana, we need to be fighting
 meth," says Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-
 Cal.) has introduced the first big federal bill to address the problem, which
 would put strict restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine-based products.
     According to federal estimates, more than 12 million Americans have tried
 methamphetamine and 1.5 million are regular users. Meth-making operations have
 been uncovered in all 50 states; Missouri tops the list, with more than 8,000
 labs, equipment caches and toxic dumps seized between 2002 and 2004.
     On the Hill last week, members vented their frustration over the deputy
 drug czar office's level of attention to the problem. "This isn't the way you
 tackle narcotics," said GOP Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana. "How many years do we
 have to see the same pattern at an increasing rate in the United States until
 there's something where we have concrete recommendations, not another cotton-
 pickin' meeting?  ...  This committee is trying desperately to say, 'Lead!'"
 Despite the congressional clamor, the White House has been loath to just throw
 money at the problem. "Meth is a serious priority for us, as evidenced by
 programs like drug-endangered children, access to recovery, drug courts and
 community coalitions, among others," says Tom Riley, spokesman for Office of
 National Drug Control Policy. "I'm afraid there's also an element of people
 'crying meth' because it's a hot new drug."
     As Newsweek reports, meth addicts are pouring into prisons and recovery
 centers at an ever-increasing rate, and a new generation of "meth babies" is
 choking the foster care system in many states. One measure of the drug's
 reach: Target, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid and other retailers have moved
 nonprescription cold pills behind the pharmacy counter, where meth cooks have
 a harder time getting at them. The active ingredient in those pills is
 pseudoephedrine, a chemical derivative of amphetamine. The "pseudo" is
 extracted from the cold pills, and cooked with other chemicals like iodine and
 anhydrous ammonia-using recipes readily available on the Internet-over high
     Last year Oklahoma became the first state to put pseudoephedrine pills
 behind the counter. And there's been a noticeable difference. "Meth labs have
 all but disappeared in Oklahoma," says Mark Woodward, press aide for the
 Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, which reports a 90 percent drop in lab seizures
 since the legislation was enacted. Seventeen other states have followed
 Oklahoma's example.
     Also in the cover package, Miami Bureau Chief Arian Campo-Flores reports
 on how burn units at hospitals are facing financial crises because of the
 numbers of meth lab explosion victims they're treating, most of whom lack
 health insurance. At the Vanderbilt University Burn Center in Nashville,
 Tenn., as many as a third of the burn cases at a given time in the past year
 have been meth-related. "If we continue to take on this large burden" of $5
 million to $10 million per year in uncompensated care, says Dr. Jeffrey Guy,
 Vanderbilt's burn director, "I don't know if we will have a burn unit five or
 10 years from now."  Across the state line, the Mississippi Firefighters
 Memorial Burn Center suspended new admissions in May and may need to shut down
 permanently. Part of the reason: the financial strain from treating meth-lab
 burn patients.
     In a third story, Chicago Bureau Chief Dirk Johnson talks to members of a
 support group in Ottumwa, Iowa, called Moms Off Meth, which is devoted to
 helping mothers recover from meth addiction and, often, help them fight to
 regain custody of their children. There are now 16 chapters across Iowa, a
 state that is one of the hardest hit by the drug. A Dads Off Meth group has
 also recently started there. The groups help the recovering addicts deal with
 a sense of shame that can be pronounced in small towns, as well as cope with
 the nightmares of severe neglect and abuse endured by their children.

SOURCE Newsweek