Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jun 2006
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2006 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Robert Crowe
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Author Cautions Federal Authorities Against Using An Universal 
Approach To Drug Problem

A new study finds that methamphetamine use might be a serious drug 
problem in some cities, but it is far from the national "epidemic" 
portrayed by the media in recent years.

The study by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group that advocates 
reforming prison sentencing laws -- particularly those for drug use 
- -- warns that hysteria over a perceived meth epidemic might lead to 
punitive legislation similar to laws passed in the 1980s that 
disproportionately punish crack cocaine users.

"We think (meth use) is very regionally based in certain pockets and 
cities. In this report, we're really cautioning against a universal 
approach" by the federal government, said Ryan King, a policy analyst 
who wrote the report for the nonprofit, based in Washington, D.C.

Houston, for example, saw just 2.1 percent of people arrested in 2003 
test positive for meth, according to federal Arrestee Drug Abuse 
Monitoring data.

The numbers are dramatically different in West Coast cities. Los 
Angeles saw 28.7 percent test positive, while Phoenix had 38.3 
percent and San Jose recorded 36.9 percent.

Nationally, meth showed up in just 4.7 percent of arrestees tested in 
2003, while cocaine showed up in 30.1 percent. Marijuana showed up in 
44.1 percent and heroin 5.8 percent of those arrested.

Devastating effect

Some officials say the study overlooks the devastating impact that 
meth -- like crack cocaine -- can have on users, their loved ones and 
the community.

"They suggest that meth is not a big problem because there are not a 
whole lot of users," said Joe Dunn, associate legislative director of 
the National Association of Counties. "Well, there's a lot more 
jaywalkers than child molesters -- but at the same time, child 
molesters are creating much more devastation."

A National Association of Counties report last year found that about 
60 percent of U.S. counties surveyed reported that methamphetamine 
presented their region's worst drug problem.

Dunn and King agree at least on one thing: Treatment for meth use is 
effective in overcoming addiction to the drug.

Dean Becker, a Houstonian and host of the 420 Drug War News radio 
program on KPFT 90.1, has long criticized the media's categorization 
of meth use as an epidemic.

"Without some sort of ongoing road-to-hell scenario, the drug war 
cannot exist," Becker said, adding that he overcame an addiction to 
meth when it was popular in the early 1970s.

"Without death and disease and children's access, the drug war has no 
meaning and, therefore, it is necessary that every year or two they 
focus on some new drug."

The Sentencing Project found that meth use is rare in most United 
States cities, though it is high in certain rural areas and cities in 
the western states. Nationally, only 0.2 percent of Americans 
regularly used methamphetamine in 2004, while four times as many used 
cocaine and 30 times use marijuana, according to National Survey on 
Drug Use and Health data.

Of the 1.44 million Americans older than 12 who used methamphetamine 
in 2004, about 583,000 were regular users.

Rise in number of users

The study did find that meth use, although relatively low compared 
with other drugs, doubled between 1994 and 1999, when 9.4 million 
Americans reported using the drug during their lifetime. By 2004, the 
number had increased 30 percent to 12 million Americans. The study, 
however, points out that use among regular meth users increased by 
only 5 percent between 1999 and 2004.

"The distinction is that even one-time users are still considered 
lifetime users, although they clearly do not suffer from current 
abuse," the study states. Since 2002, about 300,000 "new initiates" 
tried meth for the first time, according to federal data.

The record for new users in a single year, however, was set in 1975, 
when 400,000 new people tried meth for the first time.

Harsh penalty concern

While treatment for meth use increased more than fivefold between 
1993 and 2003, only about 6.3 percent of total substance abuse 
treatment admissions in 2003 were for meth use. Recent legislative 
responses to meth use have largely been at the state level, where 
legislatures have passed laws restricting pseudoephedrine-based cold 
pills, a key ingredient in some home-based meth laboratories.

King worries that the federal government might be leaning toward the 
passage of laws that would harshly penalize meth users at a time when 
many prisons are occupied by people convicted on minor drug possession offenses.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman