Pubdate: Sat, 27 May 2006
Source: Chillicothe Gazette (OH)
Copyright: 2006 Chillicothe Gazette
Author: Malia Rulon, Gazette Washington Bureau
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


QUANTICO, Va. - Staring down a dimly lit hall with rooms full of
plastic figures meant to resemble drug traffickers - some hiding under
bed covers, others wielding fake guns - isn't how most congressmen
study the nation's burgeoning methamphetamine problem.

But Rep. Bob Ney, whose rural, central Ohio district is the scene of
skyrocketing meth use and production, recently opted for an unusual
tactic in researching how Drug Enforcement Administration programs
combat the problem. Those programs are in danger of losing money.

In April, the congressman from Heath donned a blue jump suit, flak
jacket, gas mask and Kevlar helmet to charge a mock meth lab in
Quantico, Va., where DEA agents train about 1,200 local law
enforcement officers each year. "I wanted to come out here to learn,
which I obviously did, how they work with local officials, how local
officials get here, the costs of it, how they're tackling the
problem," said Ney, the first member of Congress to visit the training
lab. "The dangerousness of it is phenomenal."

That training program could lose federal funding due to the cost of
the Iraq war and hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Bush administration
has proposed severe cuts to federal programs that support state and
local drug enforcement efforts.

Under the Bush budget, funding for High Intensity Drug Trafficking
Areas (HIDTAs) would be curtailed and the "Meth Hot Spots" program
administered by the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing
Services (COPS) program would be reduced by 37 percent, from $63.6
million this year to $40 million next year.

At a May 23 hearing in the House Government Reform Subcommittee on
Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, the director of the
Southwest Ohio Regional Drug Task Force told lawmakers these cuts
would eliminate some of Ohio's drug task forces and cripple many others.

"Without these resources, the drug investigations and enforcement will
dwindle to the point of extensive ineffectiveness," said John Burke, a
38-year law enforcement veteran who also commands the Greater Warren
County Ohio Drug Task Force.

Ney is among a growing number of House lawmakers working to restore
the cuts.

The meth problem "needs to be more on the radar screen of Congress,"
Ney said during his April 25 visit to the DEA training lab. "It's not
a small problem. It's a huge problem. I'm just not sure that
everybody's aware exactly how big."

In Ohio, the number of meth lab discoveries has risen sharply from 14
in 1999 to 354 in 2004 and 429 in 2005, with many of those
concentrated in the southern part of the state.

Clermont County, for example, is known as a hot spot for meth labs,
accounting for 126 of the labs found between 2001 and 2004, according
to the Clermont County Sheriff's Office. Arrests there have continued
to climb, reaching 84 - or seven a month - in 2004.

A bill pending in the Senate would reauthorize the Office of National
Drug Control Policy and create an information clearinghouse that would
help communities and local law enforcement officers nationwide share
"best practices" in combating meth.

"This clearinghouse will help us in our fight against meth by finding
those who need assistance and connecting them with those who can
help," said DeWine, a Cedarville Republican who authored part of the

A version of the bill passed the House in March.

Also in March, Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act, which cracked
down on meth by requiring pharmacies to strictly regulate the sale of
popular over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine,
the main ingredient used to make meth. The law also requires these
drugs to be sold from behind the counter and for people who buy them
to show ID and sign a logbook.

The law also provides $119 million for local law enforcement and
social service agencies to combat the meth problem and assist children
victimized by the drug.

The federal law was enacted after Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill by Ohio
state Sen. John Carey, R-Wellston, last January that forces pharmacies
to strictly regulate the same chemical.

Meth, which goes by the street names of speed, crank, ice, chalk,
glass, crystal and fire, was identified by the National Association of
Counties as the country's biggest drug problem, ahead of cocaine,
marijuana and heroin.

Local and federal officials seized more than 17,000 meth labs in 2004. 
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