HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html New Drug Czar Here For 'Meth Summit'
Pubdate: Tue, 07 Aug 2001
Source: Eastside Journal (WA)
Copyright: 2000 Horvitz Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Noel S. Brady
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Teamwork Urged To Fight Epidemic Of High-Risk Drug

BELLEVUE -- Users call it "crank" and "crystal meth."

Even in drug-using circles, methamphetamine addicts -- or "tweakers" -- 
often are looked down upon as junkies who are happy to risk stroke or heart 
attack for a cheap, long-lasting high.

Yesterday many of the country's top drug policy-makers met in Bellevue with 
more than 300 law enforcement, drug treatment and education professionals. 
Their goal was to educate each other on the threat of methamphetamine and 
find ways to work together in battling it.

In addition to speakers such as Eastside Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn and 
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the two-day "Meth Summit" at the Double Tree 
Hotel featured the first official public appearance by the newly appointed 
national drug czar, Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman and now 
administrator-designate of the national Drug Enforcement Agency.

Hutchinson, like many other speakers, emphasized teamwork on every level of 
government and health services to reduce the number of small, clandestine 
meth labs that have made Washington state No. 2 in the country for meth 

"It's going to take every one of us -- DEA agents, state and local law 
enforcement, prevention and treatment specialists, journalists and 
educators -- if we are going to make a real difference in those communities 
devastated by methamphetamine," Hutchinson said.

The federal government has set aside $48 million for states to fight the 
use of meth, a drug Hutchinson called more dangerous than heroin, alcohol 
or cocaine.

What began in the early 1990s as a rural epidemic has since crept into 
nearly every community. New cooking methods now make it possible to 
assemble so-called "bathtub meth labs" in hotel rooms and even vans or 
campers, he said. Because they're often mobile and easily broken down, the 
labs are more difficult to detect.

King County Sheriff Dave Reichert said meth-lab seizures in King County 
increased from 60 in 1999 to 135 last year. They are expected to reach 200 
this year.

Dunn said she's heard of an increasing fear of meth labs from people who 
live or vacation around Mount Rainier. In recent years, law officers have 
seen an increase in mobile meth labs there.

Unlike the crack cocaine rage that led to gang warfare in most large cities 
in the mid-1980s, meth has not received major national media attention, 
Reichert said, because its effects are less evident. That's why it's 
important to educate the public about the severe physical problems 
associated with meth -- including stroke and heart attack -- and the 
environmental hazards caused by caustic chemicals used to make it, 
authorities said yesterday.

"The more people we get involved, the more people that we educate, the more 
we're going to find these hidden labs," Reichert said.

Meth is produced in the form of pills, capsules, powder and chunks. It's a 
stimulant similar to adrenaline, in that it speeds the central nervous 
system. The effects last for seven to 24 hours. The drug is highly 
addictive. Once it wears off, withdrawal reactions are more severe and 
longer lasting than those of either speed or cocaine.

In addition to education and dependency treatment, police are targeting 
chemicals used in meth production. Ingredients such as ephedrine, anhydrous 
ammonia and red phosphorous are legal on their own and easily obtainable. 
But new laws now make them illegal to possess with the intent to make meth.

In combination, meth ingredients are highly volatile. Investigators must 
wear airtight "space suits" with respirators when dismantling labs for fear 
of poisonous gases. They also face a risk of explosion.

Admissions to meth abuse programs in Washington grew from 774 in 1993 to 
5,173 in 1998, according to state health department statistics. Over the 
same period, meth-related hospital emergency room visits rose 190 percent 
and King County prosecutions for methamphetamine rose 642 percent.

In response to those numbers, Gov. Gary Locke has proposed more than 
doubling sentences for meth manufacturers, from two years to five years for 
a first offense, with more prison time for subsequent offenses.

Meth labs are less common on the Eastside than in south King County and in 
Pierce County, where 15 percent of all the labs in the state have been 
found. But state Rep. Luke Esser, a Bellevue Republican, yesterday 
cautioned Eastsiders not to ignore a problem that could take hold in their 
communities at any time.

"It's important that every part of our state recognize the potential this 
drug has," he said.
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