> 7/6/2005 7:18:46 AM

Officials Across U.S. Describe Drug Woes

Local officials from across the country yesterday declaredmethamphetamine the nation's leading law enforcement scourge - a moreinsidious drug problem than cocaine - and blamed it for crowding jailsand fueling increases in theft and violence, as well as for a host ofsocial welfare problems.

Officials from the National Association of Counties, releasingresults from a survey of 500 local officials nationwide, argued thatWashington's focus on terrorism and domestic security had divertedmoney and attention from the methamphetamine problem in the states.

They pleaded with lawmakers to restore financing for an $804 milliondrug-fighting program that the group said had been proposed forelimination in the 2006 federal budget, and said the Bushadministration had focused its drug-fighting efforts too much onmarijuana and not enough on methamphetamine.

"This is a national problem that requires national leadership,"Angelo Kyle, the president of the association and a member of the Boardof Commissioners in Lake County, Ill., north of Chicago, said at a newsconference in Washington that was called to draw attention to theproblem.

While methamphetamine has begun to move into some cities, it hasparticularly devastated rural areas in the last several years. It ischeap and easy to make using chemicals commonly found in cold medicineor on farms, and makeshift production laboratories have sprung up inbarns and houses. Officials said yesterday that they had evendiscovered small portable laboratories in suitcases.

The ingredients are highly toxic and highly flammable, oftenresulting in serious explosions. And the drug itself, which is smoked,inhaled or injected, is extremely addictive, producing a high thatlasts several hours and leading to binges that often last days or evenweeks.

Of 500 law enforcement agencies in 45 states, 87 percent reportedincreases in methamphetamine-related arrests in the last three years,and 62 percent reported increases in laboratory seizures.

Fifty-eight percent said methamphetamine was their largest drugproblem. Nineteen percent said cocaine was, 17 percent said marijuanaand 3 percent said heroin.

The problem is seen as particularly bad in the Southwest, where 76percent of counties surveyed said methamphetamine was their largestdrug problem; in the Pacific Northwest, where 75 percent of thosesurveyed said it was; and in the Upper Midwest, where 67 percent ofcounty officials declared methamphetamine their worst drug problem.

Seventy percent of counties reported increases in robberies andburglaries because of methamphetamine; 62 percent reported increases indomestic violence; 53 percent reported an increase in assaults; and 27reported an increase in identity theft.

Half the counties surveyed said one in five inmates were in jailbecause of methamphetamine crimes. Many counties reported that halftheir jail populations were incarcerated because of methamphetamine.

The officials said that reports of child abuse had increased aswell, with many children neglected while their parents binged and thenslept off the high for several days.

"Meth abuse is ruining lives and families and filling our jails,"said Bill Hansell, president-elect of the association and acommissioner from Umatilla County, Ore., which has led that state inlaboratory seizures.

The officials called yesterday for the restoration of the federalJustice Assistance Program, the $804 million program that helpedfinance drug-fighting efforts between different jurisdictions. "Withthe elimination of that program, that really stifles us from being ableto combat this epidemic drug," Mr. Kyle said.

The officials also called for more money for treatment and said theBush administration should shift its antidrug efforts, which haveemphasized preventing marijuana use among teenagers.

"We're not saying that that's misplaced or that they shouldn't bedoing this," said Larry Naake, executive director of the association,"but we think that there is now an epidemic that needs to get theirattention because it's just as serious, if not more serious, because ofthe overall consequences of it."

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