Pubdate: Wed, 27 Jul 2005
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Author: Jim Barnett
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Lawmakers Vent Their Frustration With The White House's Slow Response To 
The Drug's Spread And Get Assurances Of Greater Efforts

WASHINGTON -- A predominantly Republican congressional committee thrashed 
the White House drug czar's office Tuesday, saying it should scrap its 
failed national drug control strategy and craft an emergency plan to halt 
the epidemic spread of methamphetamine.

"This committee is trying desperately to say, 'Lead! You're the executive 
branch," said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who led the hearing on the spread 
of meth across the nation's heartland.

The hearing had been billed as a chance to take stock of federal resources 
that can help local governments deal with meth and related crime. But 
members vented their frustration with the Bush administration's slow 
response to meth's rapid spread across the nation.

Souder led the chorus of complaints. The drug czar's office, known 
officially as the Office of National Drug Control Policy, should develop a 
comprehensive policy that addresses meth's unique potential to overwhelm 
community police, hospitals and child services, he said.

"It's the most dangerous drug in America, and we want ONDCP to acknowledge 
it," said Souder, who is chairman of the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and 
Human Resources subcommittee of Government Reform.

Last October, the drug czar's office issued its first strategy to combat 
synthetic drugs including meth and ecstasy, and the abuse of prescription 
medicines such as OxyContin.

The administration's lead witness, deputy drug czar Scott Burns, assured 
the panel that the administration would redouble efforts to deal with meth 
on a national level. He also told Souder he would relay members' concerns 
to the White House. The drug czar's office is a branch of Executive Office 
of the President.

"I'll deliver the message, congressman," Burns said. "I hear you loud and 

Nevertheless, several members took issue with comments made earlier this 
month by officials at the drug czar's office who downplayed the seriousness 
of the meth problem. Those comments were in response to a national survey 
of sheriffs, which said meth was their top drug problem.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., berated Burns and other administration witnesses 
for failing to acknowledge that the spread of meth into Midwestern and 
Eastern states has reached epidemic proportions.

"The meth issue is totally out of hand," Mica said "We need a plan. I don't 
hear anything that sounds like a plan. This needs to be done on an 
emergency, expedited basis."

Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., formerly head football coach at the University of 
Nebraska, said meth poses a greater threat to U.S. society than foreign 

"Meth is the biggest threat to the United States, maybe even including 
al-Qaida," Osborne said.

Under the Bush administration, the stated goal of the drug czar's office 
has been to reduce rates of illegal drug use across society. Some critics 
have said that strategy leads to an overemphasis on marijuana, even though 
meth can exact a far costlier toll in crime, hospital admissions and abused 

Burns, formerly a prosecutor in rural Utah, was in Portland earlier this 
month, telling a group of national and international prosecutors that 
"methamphetamine is the most destructive, dangerous, terrible drug that's 
come along in a long time."

But Tuesday, Burns said the drug czar's office owed it to the nation to 
take a balanced approach to combating use of illegal drugs.

"We have to deal with the fact that there are more kids in treatment for 
marijuana than for all other drugs combined," Burns said.

He added that law officers in the Northeast who struggle against heroin use 
"would laugh if we told them there was a meth epidemic."

That comment sparked an exchange with Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Cummings 
said he objected to Burns' characterization. He said people in the 
Northeast don't take drug addiction lightly and would be more likely to 
empathize than laugh about meth.

Burns said he wasn't trying to make light of drug addiction. He told 
Cummings that his 52-year-old brother died earlier this month after a 
lifetime of abusing painkillers and alcohol after a mining accident. 
"There's nothing funny about it," Burns said.

Met with caucus

Before the hearing, Burns met privately with Souder and other members of 
the bipartisan House Meth Caucus, which has about 100 members. Rep. Brian 
Baird, D-Wash., said Burns briefed the members on administration plans to 
improve its approach to meth but offered few specifics and no firm timeline 
for action.

Baird is not a member of the Government Reform panel, but he said he was 
struck by the tone of complaints registered at the hearing, particularly 
from Republicans who normally support the administration.

"To a certain degree, the administration has brought this on themselves by 
their inaction in the past and their almost complete inattention to this 
problem," Baird said. "I think they're finally getting it. In the past I 
think they gave us short shrift."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom