Pubdate: Thu, 25 Mar 2004
Source: North County Times (CA)
Copyright: 2004 North County Times
Author: Ken Ma


VISTA ---- Methamphetamine abuse and crimes committed by its users are 
epidemic in the region, a panel of law enforcement and social workers told 
residents during a Wednesday evening town hall meeting.

"Methamphetamine is the most widely abused drug in this area (San Diego 
County)," said Michael Vigil, the special agent in charge of the Drug 
Enforcement Agency's San Diego field office.

More than 20 residents gathered at the Vista Townsite Community Center to 
attend the 6 p.m. meeting, which was held to inform residents about the 
meth problem, enforcement and treatment. The five panelists talked about 
meth in Vista, but also as a countywide issue.

A large number of Vista's property crimes are committed by meth addicts, 
who steal to feed their drug habit, sheriff's Deputy Todd Norton said.

In other cases, meth is also found in the systems of those who commit 
crimes against law enforcement officers, domestic violence and child abuse, 
DEA Special Agent Brian Collier said.

Last year, meth was found in the system of two accused cop killers, 
28-year-old Adrian Camacho and 37-year-old Kevin Williams, Collier said. 
Camacho is suspected of killing Oceanside police Officer Tony Zeppetella 
and Williams is accused of killing San Diego police Officer Terry Bennett.

"It (meth) played a role," Collier said. "It made those suspects more 

In Vista, sheriff's deputies are fighting against the abuse by enforcing a 
law that prohibits merchants from selling more than three packages of cold 
medicine that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, substances that are 
used to produce methamphetamine.

City, county and state laws restrict the sale of such products to three 
packages within 24 hours.

When deputies began conducting enforcement sweeps of retailers in 2001, 70 
percent of the 42 businesses that sold over-the-counter cold medicines had 
no clue the law existed, Norton said. During an enforcement sweep conducted 
last summer, 12 of the businesses were found in violation.

Norton said enforcement has been effective over the years because more 
stores and clerks are now aware of the law.

In addition, members of the county's Methamphetamine Strike Force also 
trained Vista Wal-Mart employees about the law, and how to identify and 
report customers that buy ephedrine and other ingredients that are commonly 
used to produce meth, said Kathy Valdez, a Vista community outreach manager.

Many meth ingredients can be found in common products such as swimming pool 
cleaners, matches, battery acid, paint and disinfectants, among others, 
according to a data sheet provided by the panelists.

Another enforcement tool, which started eight years ago, is the property 
abatement program, which holds landlords accountable for their tenants who 
abuse and produce meth, Norton said.

The city can take over a landlord's property if the person doesn't comply 
with several warnings to evict meth addicts and to clean up their property 
from dealers, he said.

Lara Lambert, a social worker with the county's Drug Endangered Children's 
program, said the program seeks to provide children of addicts a safe place 
to live until their parents can break their drug habit.

Meth users can sometimes abuse, or in some cases, killed their children 
because of their addiction, she said.

Martha Caro, a 16-year-old Vista resident who attended the meeting, said 
she learned about the problems associated with meth and the drug's impact 
on children.

"I learned that a lot of kids are mistreated because of the drug," Caro said.

Those wishing to report drug activity or find treatment programs are 
encouraged to call the meth hotline at (877) NO2-METH (662-6384).
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman