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Methamphetamine: A New Tiger to Tame
Leeanne Frazier, Staff Researcher

The media has labeled the rise of production methamphetamine and use (or meth in the common vernacular) as the new drug epidemic of the early 21st century.1 It was cocaine in the 70s, crack in the 80s and ecstasy in the 90s. Every decade in recent years seems to bring a new drug du jour, and meth is the latest in that line. In addition to being another drug in the panoply of abusive substances to invade human society, meth presents new challenges and issues for law enforcement officials and the public because of the hazardous and toxic conditions produced by meth manufacturing laboratories, the fact that these labs can be setup in essentially any location, and the long-term physical and psychological damage any use of the drug can cause.2

Many states have responded to this crisis with a three-pronged approach that promotes the following aims: educate the public about the destructive nature of meth, stop the sale of meth-producing products prior to manufacture, and regulate cleanup procedures after meth labs are discovered and shutdown. To facilitate these goals partnerships among law enforcement, commercial retailers and the public have grown to separately and collectively deal with this ongoing struggle. Additionally, the White House, through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has implemented measures at the federal level to address issues unique to meth manufacture and ingestion. This article provides an overview of state programs designed to combat meth locally and briefly touch on some federal efforts addressing methamphetamine issues nationally.

One of the most prevalent prevention methods, employed by over a dozen states nationwide, involves the implementation of watch programs. Watch programs are aimed at reducing the theft and sale of products used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.3 This goal is accomplished through the cooperation of local retailers with law enforcement. Retailers typically adopt guidelines that govern product placement, post signs around the store about the watch program, limit the amount of suspect material that an individual could purchase in a single sale, and contact law enforcement if suspicious activity is observed. Retailers' are motivated to participate in these programs because they see a reduction from in the amount of theft of methamphetamine-related products and a reduction in the contamination of surrounding land due to meth manufacture, which is a particular concern for rural communities where small labs pop up everyday.4 Further, the ingredients needed to manufacture meth, unlike other illegal drugs, are readily available through local purchases. Thus, this program is an important link in the effort to eliminate the creation of meth.

The second approach utilized by many states involves containing the environmental impact of meth labs after discovery by law enforcement officers or members of the public. As stated above, meth labs create a highly toxic environment that can injure anyone exposed to the fumes created during production.5 The toxicity issue is new to drug enforcement, and in order to minimize the danger to law enforcement, programs are in place to train personnel to recognize and properly respond to evidence of detritus common to meth labs.6 Once this identification is made by on-site officials, the property must be quarantined and closed until a licensed decontamination contractor can assess and clean the location.7 This is the most dangerous aspect of meth, and programs such as these are vital for the health and safety of law enforcement and the surrounding community. These programs are especially important in light of the fact that there are many more small labs in rural communities than so-called "superlabs" around dense areas of population that lend themselves to ready identification.8 Without training law enforcement officers would unknowingly walk into lethal situations and likely miss signs of meth production. Ultimately, the efficient shutdown and cleanup of meth labs will enhance the ability of law enforcement to cutoff the supply of meth to established and new users.

The third major technique used to address the meth epidemic makes use of websites dedicated to educating the public about the effects of the drug on the usersí and loved onesí lives, as well as, the permanent effect it has on usersí health from the first use.9 Statements from friends, families, and former addicts are posted on the websites and give a personal view of the devastating effects of this drug.10 Further, the websites provide an image of the meth user that differs from the stereotypical assumption of drug users as wealthy cocaine addicts or poor minority crackheads. Instead, the websites show that many meth users are middle class Americans. It is through this medium that, hopefully, the public's view of "what a drug addict looks like" will change to incorporate the understanding that anyone can become addicted to meth, including your son or daughter, best friend, or next door neighbor. This message is particularly essential to providing information a person would need to recognize signs of meth addiction in another. Moreover, it is an entirely new method of communicating with the public opened up with the Internet explosion of the past decade.

Finally, the White House issued a strategic plan last year which tackles methamphetamine production and use from several angles. First, the Administration is pushing for legislation to be enacted that would limit the amount of over-the-counter pseudoephedrine products, a mixture used in meth production, an individual could purchase. The Administration seeks to allow federal regulation and supervision of the distribution and sale of these products. Second, the Administration intends to provide prevention and treatment measures through the award of grants that will fund treatment programs for meth addiction, increase the number of prosecutions for methamphetamine production, and coordinate federal agencies investigative efforts. This includes the establishment of a forensic science training laboratory at the Justice Training Center. Third, it would like to provide educational resources on meth addiction to the general public, and lastly, fund projects and studies that will look into the effect meth addiction has on the children of abusers and new ways to cleanup damage to land around a meth lab.

All of the methods described above illustrate the multifaceted and complex techniques that are necessary to oppose the new concerns that are presented by meth. It seems that as we advance technologically we also find new and more dangerous ways to hurt ourselves. These recent additions to the arsenal against drug use represent the latest evolution in this ongoing battle. Hopefully, our ingenuity and our resources will continue to be enough to keep pace with the bad guys.

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1 Some Examples - “Frontline: The Meth Epidemic” (PBS television broadcast, 2006); David J. Jefferson, “America's Most Dangerous Drug”, Newsweek, Aug. 8, 2005; “Nation: Study: Meth Epidemic Fueling Family Break Ups” (NPR radio broadcast, July 5, 2005).
2Dana E. Hunt, “Methamphetamine Abuse: Challenges for Law Enforcement and Communities ”, 254 National Institute of Justice Journal, (July 2006).
3Meth Watch Program(last visited September 19, 2006).
4Id.
5Hunt, “Methamphetamine Abuse”.
6Methamphetamine (Meth) Cleanup Program(last visited September 19, 2006; Oregon Drug Lab Cleanup Program (last visited September 19, 2006).
7A corollary issue that arises with meth lab contamination is the liability of landowners for the remediation of damaged property and the liability future purchasers for additional toxicity issues. See Brian Privett, Landowner Civil Liability for Meth Lab Contamination under Kentucky Law, 44 Brandeis L.J. 715 (2006).
8Oregon Drug Cleanup Program.
9This effect can be traced to the fact that methamphetamine stays in a person's system much longer than other drug types. See The Body – Frequently Asked Questions about Crystal Methamphetmaine (last visited September 19, 2006).
10Examples among hundreds - Methamphetamine: Stories and Letters of the Hidden Costs (last visited September 19, 2006); Meth Stories: Affecting Your Community (last visited September 19, 2006); Meth Madness Recovery (last visited September 19, 2006).
11Office of National Drug Control Policy, Taking Action Against Methamphetamine, News and Public Affairs, Aug. 15, 2005.
12Id.