America is at war with crystal meth, which has overtaken cocaine to become the biggest drug problem according to a 45 state crime survey.
"Methamphetamine is, above all, a profound anti-
depressant. It is no surprise that most users in the US are not gay men but poor people trying to get by."
~ Patricia Case [Harvard Professor of Social Science]
While use is epidemic among gay men in metropolitan cities across America, conversely meth is rampaging like wildfire through rurul towns in the Midwest "Bible belt" where many socially and economically deprived individuals use to self-medicate feelings of boredom, despair and hopelessness, setting light to entire communities. Meth is also wreaking havoc among
marginalised native American Indian reservations.
"The devastating consequences of methamphetamine are felt across the country by individuals, government agencies, businesses and communities of all sizes," said Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy chief of enforcement with the Drug Enforcement Administration, in his July 2005 address to the the House of Representatives sub-
committee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources. "Americans are waging a daily battle against this drug."
A Schedule II drug under federal regulations, speed has been widely used in California for decades, but the development and use of methamphetamine in the state has had a knock-on effect across the States in recent years. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration reported that 5.7% (12 million) of all adults over 26 said they used the drug in 2004, the same as in 2003, while the National Institutes of Health reported in June that 2.8% of young adults aged 18 to 26 reported using meth during 2001-2 - twice the previously estimated number. The proportion of dependent users has also risen drastically. In June 2005, almost 607,000 people were reported to have been addicted users of meth, but the real figure could be as high as 1.5 million.
"In other words, as many as 1.5 million people are currently in the process of destroying their lives, as well as the lives of their family and those around them, and 12 million are teetering on the edge of disaster."
~ The Real Truth
Nearly 117,000 Americans entered hospitals and clinics for treatment for meth addiction in 2003, a 10% rise on the previous year. However, there are signs that user levels may have peaked around that time. Quest Diagnostics, one of America's largest drug screening firms, recorded a 31% decrease in the first 6 months of 2006. The last increase was recorded in 2004 when 6% more employees tested positive for meth compared to 2003, which itself saw a 44% leap from 2002 levels, indicating that routine drug testing in the workplace is serving to deter potential users. More than 60% of US employers now test current and new employees for illegal drugs, and a new study funded by the Wal-Mart Foundation reveals that each meth-using employee costs their employer $47,500 a year in lost productivity, absenteeism, higher health-care costs and higher workers' compensation costs.
Meth addiction is a recognised disease in the US medical field, marked by obsession of the mind and compulsion of the body.
In 1996, US Congress took measures in federal legislature to prevent the illegal spread of meth with the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, passing mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking of five years for ten grams and ten years for 100 grams. The former head of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, Asa Hutchinson, described meth as rural America's "number one drug problem", while Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said, "People are using the drug to feel better, but they are literally selling their soul to the devil." Concerned senators have faced an uphill battle ever since to impose harsher restrictions in line with meth's spiraling use. The National Drug Control Policy's approach to dealing with meth was recently described as "pathetic" by Indiana Republican Mark Souder, who demanded the resignation of agency staff members.
"The Defense Department is requesting - and will probably get - $257 million to slow the drug trade in Afghanistan. After all, heroin trafficking helps fund terrorism. There's a difference, one supposes, between foreigners terrorising Americans and Americans terrorising each other."
~ Froma Harrop [The Christian Science Monitor]
Officials from the National Association of Counties - which last year released results from a survey of 500 local officials nationwide showing that 87% had seen increases in meth-related arrests the previous three years - claim that Washington's focus on terrorism and domestic security has diverted money and attention from the problem. President Bush's 2007 budget has called for the zeroing out of grants for task forces that fight meth, according to Frank Till, president of the Missouri Narcotic Officers' Association. "This war against drugs takes money," says Till. "We are facing a 55% decrease in grants across the nation. It's imperative that these task forces be funded."
The Association claims the Bush administration is resistant to tackling meth, instead focusing its drug-fighting efforts too heavily on preventing marijuana use among teenagers.
In response, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy restated its stance that marijuana remains the nation's most substantial drug problem because it is considered a "gateway" drug to harder substances. Federal estimates suggest there are 15m marijuana users compared to the 600,000 Americans they claim are current hard users of meth and, by comparison, 398,000 who used heroin in 2004. America's prioritisation of marijuana in its fight against drugs is in stark contrast to the UK and Canada which have decriminalised possession of the weed while reclassifying meth as a top priority stimulant, imposing life sentences on dealers and manufacturers.
The irony of most meth labs setting up in Midwest Republican states has not diminished a growing suspicion that the White House failed to act primarily because crystal targets vulnerable minorities and Democrat-leaning voters such as gays, blacks and the poor, while a growing chorus of political observers suggest that its anti-drug policies are a front to enable the US military to establish bases in otherwise unpenetrable South American countries where drug production and trafficking are rife.
"The fight against drug trafficking is a false pretext for the United States to install military bases and we're not in agreement."
~ Evo Morales [President of Bolivia]
Despite Neo-Con disinterest, last year the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which aims to curb production, distribution and use of meth throughout the US. [Click PDF link]
The bipartisan legislation was mendaciously attached to the renewal of the Patriot Act, thereby ensuring the Patriot Act's smooth passage by liberal meth-battling Senators who might otherwise have opposed the authoritarian bill. The inclusion of the Combat Meth Act was actively opposed by agencies within the Bush administration who worked behind the scenes to oppose key terms, including the Food and Drug Administration which opposed the retail sales restrictions, and the State Department which pushed for a voluntary approach to international enforcement.
Pharmaceutical companies and some retailers were also against the anti-meth bill, which requires:
• Pseudoephedrine products in all states to be sold
behind the counter;
• The five largest exporting and importing countries of meth presursors - which are manmade and produced legally - to report and track their shipments, the penalty for non-compliance being up to a 50% reduction in US aid;
• Limited over the counter sales to 9 grams a month (around 250 x 30 milligram tablets), and 3.6 grams in a single day;
• ID and a signature for purchase;
• Stiffened federal penalties for meth traffickers and 20 year jail sentences for those who produce or deal the drug in the presence of children.
"Our nation is committed to protecting our citizens and our young people from the scourge of methamphetamine."
~ President George W. Bush [Signing the Combat Meth Act into law on 10 March 2006]
A change in the administration's public stance on meth appeared to emerge when Drug Enforcement Administration chief, Karen Tandy, expressed support for the legislation, saying, "This new law creates an opportunity to turn the tide of the meth epidemic". This was the first time the word epidemic had been used by high-ranking White House official in association with meth, officials having previously maintained that it remained a local and regional problem and should be treated as such. White House drug czar John Walters later distanced himself from Tandy's statement.
Some states with high concentrations of meth users had already passed laws limiting the sale of cough and cold medicines like Sudafed and Claritin, which contain the ephedra plant extract pseudoephedrine - a key meth ingredient due to its amphetamine-like stimulant effect which increases heart rate and blood pressure - while others had required purchasers to show identification and to sign a register to discourage potential meth producers. National chain stores Wal- Mart, Target, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens had also acted to place such products behind the counter to deter shoplifters.
Ultimately, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 represents a major step forward in the fight against dealers and manufacturers. Since March 2004, when Oklahoma took the lead in banning over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and other decongestants, meth lab seizures in the state fell more than 90%, and in July the National Association of Counties announced the results of a new survey of 500 county law enforcement officials in 44 states, showing that around half reported a decrease in the number of meth lab busts following the introduction of the new laws.