Pubdate: Sun, 19 Jun 2005
Source: Times, The (Shreveport, LA)
Copyright: 2005 The Times
Author: Larry Bivins and Pamela Brogan


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

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

Law enforcement officials on the front lines see it as a growing problem.

"It's not just here, it's throughout the South," said Mike Moriarty, chief
deputy U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Louisiana. His unit is part
of the area's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. "Now, for them,
it's a much easier operation. They use smaller-scale labs, not the
large-scale labs we saw a couple of years ago. They fit in a closet, they're
highly mobile, and they don't take long to set up or dismantle."

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 coordinator.

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.

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

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 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.

The nature of meth production holds a key to stopping it, though, Moriarty

"The odor gives it away," he said. "It's very medicinal in an area where it
shouldn't be. Any smell that's chemical should give rise to caution."

John Andrew Prime contributed to this report. 
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