Pubdate: Fri, 08 Mar 2002
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2002 Chattanooga Publishing Co
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation wants to hire nine more 
agents to bolster investigation of labs producing methamphetamine, an 
illegal drug that is "a cancer" afflicting rural Tennessee, TBI Director 
Larry Wallace said.

Mr. Wallace said the agency also needs $1.2 million to hire 14 more 
criminal intelligence agents and analysts for homeland security.

Mr. Wallace and directors of the Military Department and the Department of 
Safety presented their budget requests Thursday to the House Finance Committee.

The TBI seeks $4 million in improvements for the next fiscal year, which 
begins July 1. Besides the drug investigators and criminal intelligence 
employees, the bureau wants to add 22 forensic scientists to ease the 
backlog of tests necessary for criminal cases.

District Attorney Mike Taylor with the 12th Judicial District said 
dedicating state agents to address "the monstrous problem of meth" would 
benefit the six counties in his district. In Circuit Court alone, he said, 
there are more 275 methamphetamine-related cases currently on the docket.

"The meth problem didn't gradually show up," he said. "It became full blown 
in Grundy County all at once and then gradually spread to Marion, Franklin 
and later Bledsoe and even Rhea (counties)."

Lawmakers took special interest in a colored map showing the profusion of 
methamphetamine labs in the state. The number of labs seized jumped from 
102 in 1999 to 241 in 2001, with the greatest concentration in Hamilton, 
Marion, Sequatchie, Grundy, Warren, White and Putnam counties. Each seizure 
was represented by a tiny red dot on the map.

"My county is completely red," said Rep. Jere Hargrove, D-Cookeville. "It 
is absolutely frightening."

Mr. Wallace couldn't say for certain why those counties are having the most 
trouble, but he said the drug's low cost may be one reason. It can be 
produced with ingredients bought at pharmacy, grocery or discount stores.

"Methamphetamine is the poor man's cocaine," he said. "The epidemic is 
indigenous to rural parts of the state."

The labs are dangerous not only for the drugs they produce, but because the 
process creates toxic fumes and the threat of explosion, said Rich 
Littlehale, legal adviser to the bureau's drug division.

TBI now has 42 agents in its drug investigation division, Mr. Wallace said, 
far fewer than those of surrounding states.

"TBI is the only agency in the state that has primary responsibility for 
this," he said. "It pains me that we have only 42 agents. We're asking for 
a pittance of what needs to be done here with these nine agents."

Even after methamphetamine fades as a drug of choice, he said, a new drug 
will take its place and the extra agents will still be needed.

"Today it's methamphetamine, tomorrow it will be something else," he said.
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