Pubdate: Wed, 04 May 2005
Source: Arizona Republic (AZ)
Copyright: 2005 The Arizona Republic
Authors: Larry Bivins and Pamela Brogan
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


WASHINGTON - The methamphetamine epidemic is draining money and
resources from communities large and small.

Local officials who had not even heard of the drug five years ago are
being forced to shift budget priorities to pay for everything from
dental care for meth-addicted jail inmates to foster care for children
whose parents have been arrested for running a meth lab.

The additional financial burden comes at a time when many states are
struggling to balance their budgets and the federal government is
cutting back funding for local drug-fighting programs.

The Bush administration, which has recommended cutting money for local
anti-meth programs, does not have national figures on the drug's
economic toll.

"We just don't track this data," said Jennifer DeVallance, a
spokeswoman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

But officials in communities where meth is a problem have a clear idea
of what it's costing them. A few examples:

- - Meth cost Portland and the rest of Multnomah County, Ore., $102.3
million in 2004, according to an economic analysis by ECONorthwest.
That amounts to $363 per household in a county where the average tax
payment was $355.

"Meth is an involuntary tax dumped on you," said Robert Whelan,
co-author of the ECONorthwest report and the single father of an
adopted son whose birth mother used meth.

- - In Crow Wing County, Minn., meth costs taxpayers about $1.8 million
a year, or $33.50 for each county resident, said Terry Sluss, a county
commissioner and the county's methamphetamine prevention

- - Meth costs Indiana at least $100 million a year, including $4.5
million spent cleaning up former meth labs, according to the state's
Methamphetamine Abuse Task Force.

Methamphetamine is the fastest-growing drug threat in the nation,
according to federal officials. As the meth epidemic has swept
eastward from California and the Pacific Northwest, it has created
unique - and expensive - problems in a variety of areas.

"It impacts lives in so many more ways than we've seen happen with
other drugs," said Colleen Landkamer, a county commissioner in Blue
Earth County, Minn.

Jails are overcrowded with meth-addicted inmates, many of whom require
special medical care. Meth labs quickly become toxic waste dumps that
must be cleaned up at great expense. Home values take a beating in
neighborhoods where meth is manufactured, and property crime in those
areas often is rampant.

"It is a serious strain," said Will Pinkston, a spokesman for
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has earmarked $7 million for
anti-meth programs. "The resources we have to spend cleaning up the
(meth) problem takes away from the amount we have available to spend
on preventing the problem."

Meth's impact on local economies extends even to the youngest
Americans. Children in homes where meth is used or made are more
likely to be abused or neglected and are exposed to highly toxic chemicals

"You're looking at neglect beyond anything you could ever imagine,"
said Betsy Dunn, a children's protection services case manager in
Putnam County, Tenn. "These children are living in environments that
are highly toxic. I often say these children are living in gas chambers."

In testimony presented at a March 5 congressional hearing, Tennessee
Technical University President Robert Bell cited estimates that state
officials will take more than 700 children into custody this year at a
cost of more than $4 million.

And the ECONorthwest study estimated that foster care for children of
meth-addicted parents in Multnomah County, Ore., cost $6.1 million in
2004, or $21.75 per household.

Meth has been a particularly serious problem for rural communities,
many of which have reported increased thefts of anhydrous ammonia, a
crop fertilizer that is a key ingredient in meth.

"All of our fertilizer companies now have Cyclone fences... with high
barbed wire," said Bill Hansell, a county commissioner in Umatilla
County, Ore.

In Coffee County, Tenn., Sheriff Steve Graves blames meth-related
crimes for severe overcrowding in the county jail.

"We've got 16-man cells with 30 people in them," Graves said. "We've
got people sleeping on mattresses on floors."

Many of those inmates have serious medical problems related to
prolonged meth use. County officials recently spent $100,000 for
emergency colon surgery for one meth-addicted inmate, and vanloads of
prisoners are frequently ferried to the dentist for treatment of "meth
mouth" - severe tooth and gum decay, Graves said.

Some states are targeting meth in their budget plans. A group of
Republican state legislators in Illinois, for example, has proposed
spending $39 million on anti-meth efforts.

Environmental damage is one of the costliest consequences of the meth
epidemic. Cleaning up the toxic chemicals at a meth lab - acetone,
Freon, anhydrous ammonia, red phosphorus, lithium metal, iodine -
typically costs between $3,000 and $20,000.

In Indiana, law enforcement officers shut down 1,500 meth labs last
year and have busted 460 so far this year, said Eric Lawrence,
director of forensic analysis for the Indiana State Police. He said
officers are aggressively identifying and closing labs because of the
potential impact on property values.

"If you leave this problem unchecked," he said, "it could bring
economic ruin to a community."

Nationally, hospital admissions for methamphetamine abuse increased
fivefold between 1992 and 2002, according to recent congressional
testimony. But other information about meth's economic toll nationwide
is elusive.

Republican Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri recently asked the White House
for that information but instead received only figures showing the
economic impact of all drugs.

"It's useless; I was appalled," Talent said. "I don't know how they
can recommend cuts if they are not aware of the costs of

DeVallance, the spokeswoman for the Office of National Drug Control
Policy, said the meth cost breakdown Talent requested "just doesn't
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin