Pubdate: Sun, 13 Nov 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Hearing the poignant stories of young prisoners with lives devastated
by methamphetamine helped convince Western Carolina University's
Gordon Mercer that the illegal drug is a key problem for North
Carolina. Mercer, a professor of political science and public affairs
and director of WCU's Public Policy Institute, isn't alone in thinking
so. He joins the growing ranks of health, public safety and judicial
officials helping to sound the alarm regarding this scourge, which has
been spreading like wildfire across Western North Carolina.

On Wednesday, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper will be the keynote speaker
at a summit sponsored by WCU's Public Policy Institute titled "Winning the
War on Methamphetamine: a Multidimensional Approach."
The summit is an opportunity to learn more about a highly addictive drug
that ruins lives and undermines communities.

At the urging of Cooper, earlier this year the General Assembly passed
a law that places controls on the sale of cold tablets that contain
ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, key ingredients needed to manufacture
the illegal substance. Meth is a drug that is dangerously and
immediately addictive and one that can be manufactured at home with
easily available ingredients -- though the new law makes a critical
component more difficult to obtain. The manufacture leaves behind
toxic waste and can result in explosions. It's even added new
terminology to the language, such as "meth mouth," a medical term for
the effects meth, which can be produced using red phosphorus, lye,
lithium and sulfuric acid, has on the teeth and gums. It can also pose
dangerous risks for children who are present in homes where
manufacturing is taking place.

Mercer focused on meth after attending an event sponsored by the
Parent Teacher Organization at Franklin High School at which several
young prisoners talked candidly about their meth addiction and the
tragic consequences for their lives. One had been a star high school
football player. Another's family had been virtually destroyed. The
tragic stories are being repeated in communities and homes across our
region. Mercer said the Franklin event brought home to him the
heartbreaking consequences of meth use because it put a face on the
problem. Every year the Public Policy Institute takes a key state
issue and examines it during a summit that brings together individuals
from different disciplines to share ideas and experiences. The other
factor in choosing methamphetamine as the subject for this year's
summit was the devastating impact it is having on communities.

"We were getting a lot of feedback from public officials that crime
has gone way up as people try to support their addiction -- bad checks,
identity thefts, robberies -- because they can't work once they become
addicted. Public agencies are overrun. It affects the whole
community," Mercer said. Mercer's experience at Franklin and the
comments related to the institute by local government, law enforcement
and social service agency officials tell the story behind the
statistics. North Carolina has seen the number of meth lab seizures
rise from nine in 1999 to 280 this year, as of October. Most of those
labs were in Western North Carolina.

Cooper helped educate lawmakers and the public regarding the tragic
consequences of the manufacture and use of methamphetamine, both for
the community and the addict.

He now supports federal anti-meth legislation, which is currently
making its way through Congress.

North Carolina's new law will take effect in January and should help
to mitigate the problem here, but as long as cold medicines containing
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are readily available in adjacent
states, there will continue to be a problem.

The summit will be an opportunity to hear Cooper and others who deal
with the meth problem on a daily basis share ideas about how to cope
with what has become a dreadful scourge.
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