Pubdate: Wed, 12 Apr 2006
Source: Morganton News Herald, The (NC)
Copyright: 2006, Media General Inc.
Author: Todd Huffman
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


LENOIR - A congressional committee brought together area leaders on
Tuesday in an effort to combat methamphetamine use.

The committee field hearing was an opportunity for local leaders to
make impassioned pleas to congressmen that they hope will be heard in

District Attorney Jay Gaither says that money is the key to cutting
off the supply of meth and ensuring that jail time awaits those who
break the law.

"The spike (of meth lab seizures) in 2003 and 2004 are just now
hitting the courts," Gaither says.

"Punishment for possessing meth is woefully weak ... We need new
prisons and new laws."

The committee was made up of U.S. Reps. Patrick McHenry, R-10th,
Virginia Foxx, R-5th, and Mark Souder, R-Ind. Souder serves as
chairman, McHenry, vice chairman.

Stiffening the law, as Gaither requested, was part of the Combat
Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. Authored by McHenry and signed
into effect in March, the law ensures that people who manufacture meth
in the presence of children can get 20 years in prison, up from the
previous 10-year maximum sentence.

Caldwell County Sheriff Gary Clark says the drug is a serious threat
to children in the area. Three out of four meth lab seizures in
Caldwell County take place where children live or play, Clark says.
Tightening the laws and reducing access to meth might have helped
Lynne Starr-Vasquez's son. She told his story to the committee with a
trembling voice and tears streaming down her face.

She spoke about her son's addiction to the drug; she spoke about her
decision to turn him in; she spoke about the struggle to protect her
grandchildren from their parents.

After a pause to compose herself, she spoke about the time her son ran
10 needles full of meth into his body in an attempt to kill himself.
"He said he was trying to bust his heart or blow a vein in his brain,"
she says.

He didn't succeed. Instead, her son entered federal prison three days
later to begin a seven-year sentence for conspiracy to manufacture
meth, Starr-Vasquez says.

It's getting better, but more work needs to be done. Limiting the
availability of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine has helped keep local
meth labs out of business, says Sheriff C. Philip Beyers of Rutherford

"The first three months of 2006 have resulted in a 30 percent decrease
in meth lab seizures statewide," he says. Forty labs were discovered
statewide in March 2005 versus 14 labs in March 2006. McHenry says the
hearing produced some good information for the subcommittee. The
biggest item, he says, is that the time from arrest to prosecution
needs to be reduced. The nature of the meth epidemic is changing as
well, McHenry says. The law restricting ephedrine sales will also lead
to more meth being imported from Mexico, he says.
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