Pubdate: Tue, 19 Feb 2002
Source: Wichita Eagle (KS)
Copyright: 2002 The Wichita Eagle
Author: Alex Branch
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Salina Police Chief Jim Hill put his frustrations over his county's 
skyrocketing meth problem in plain terms for the country's top drug law 
enforcer Monday. "We are basically overworked and overwhelmed by meth," he 
told Asa Hutchinson, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who was 
on a one-day visit to Kansas.

Hutchinson was in Reno County at the request of U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, who 
wanted Hutchinson to hear about Kansas' methamphetamine struggles firsthand.

His audience at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center happily obliged, 
citing the need for better cooperation between federal and local agencies, 
and for more funding.

"We're spending more and more resources trying to combat this problem," 
Hill said, adding that Saline County has seized almost 150 labs in the last 
two years.

Hutchinson spent much of the meeting listening, and he promised to do his 
best finding federal dollars to assist local authorities. He also said he 
wanted to do a better job of including drug treatment and education in the 
DEA's strategies.

"I understand how deeply this problem affects Kansas communities," he told 
the audience of about 75.

Meth -- a toxic, addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, injected 
or ingested -- has become state's biggest drug problem over the last eight 
years. The drug is often "cooked" in labs with chemicals that spew noxious 
and volatile gases.

In 1994, Kansas authorities seized four meth labs. In 2001, they seized 
846. Moran said Kansas ranks fourth in the nation in drug labs seized.

Cleaning up the labs is dangerous, time-consuming and expensive.

President Bush appointed Hutchinson to run the administration in August. 
Before that, Hutchinson served as U.S. representative for Arkansas, where 
he said he saw an increasing number of meth labs in rural areas.

While Kansas authorities may feel as if they're fighting a losing a battle, 
Hutchinson said they and federal investigators are making progress.

"We're not quite there in Kansas yet, but we can achieve success," he said.

Hutchinson lauded a state program teaching clerks at retail stores to 
detect and alert authorities to the purchase of large quantities of 
meth-making items such as cold medicine, he said.

Also, tighter security at Mexican and Canadian borders since Sept 11 is 
making it harder for dealers to smuggle drugs into the country, he said. 
About 70 percent of all meth in Kansas is shipped in from California or 
Mexico, said Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Larry Welch.

Pratt County Attorney Tom Black said federal authorities should communicate 
better with local authorities and with each other.

He gave as an example a bust in which Pratt County law officers seized 
$259,000 in drug money in 2000. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and DEA 
were contacted and invited to interview the suspects.

The FBI did, but wouldn't share investigative reports with Black as he 
prepared to prosecute the case.

Later the DEA called to ask for a copy of his files on the case, unaware 
that the FBI had interviewed the suspects.

"It just seems like we could all cooperate a little bit better," he said.

While most of the afternoon focused on the law enforcement side of the meth 
problem, Hutchinson did visit the Horizons Mental Health Center in Hutchinson.

Counselors there explained to him the difficulty trying to wean someone off 
meth and stressed the importance of rehabilitation.

Hutchinson said the DEA is aware that more goes into the drug war than just 
catching dealers.

"I'm very, very supportive of what you do," he said. "We're all in this 
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