Magazine article State Legislatures

The Meth Menace: Battling the Fast-Paced Spread of Methamphetamine May Mean Attacking It from Several Fronts

Magazine article State Legislatures

The Meth Menace: Battling the Fast-Paced Spread of Methamphetamine May Mean Attacking It from Several Fronts

Article excerpt

For Jim Atkins, addiction to methamphetamine was not an overnight thing. "It really snuck up on me," he says.

Working as a bouncer in a rock 'n' roll bar in San Antonio, Atkins needed something that would give him an extra lift for the late-night hours. "Initially I started using it on a Friday night and would stay up for the entire weekend until Sunday. I would not, in fact, do it again until the following weekend."

But soon a cycle that is hauntingly familiar to millions of meth addicts began to emerge. The days when Atkins wasn't using the drug became shorter, while he stayed up for longer periods of time. "Before I knew it, I was staying up practically all of the time and sleeping only here and there," he says. "I had become a total user and had all of the negative personality traits that go with addiction." He was in a state of grogginess when he wasn't high. He had out-of-control rages and couldn't concentrate on anything except the drug. He was stealing to pay for his habit.

Atkins eventually learned to wean himself from methamphetamine and other substance abuse and is now the manager of admissions at the Hazelden Foundation, a drug treatment and research organization in Center City, Minn. He remains convinced that methamphetamine is the most dangerous drug in the country, largely because of its potent high.

"It produces a great feeling," says Atkins. "It ups your self-esteem and gives you all sorts of energy. I am not surprised at all that it has become such a popular drug."

There are millions of people who have either tried or become addicted to methamphetamine. Its popularity and use can even be tracked geographically, contend many experts who say that it began as a biker gang drug of choice in the Southwest more than two decades ago. It has rapidly moved eastward in the past three to four years.

"It is now clearly a nationwide epidemic, and anyone who thinks it isn't hasn't studied the issue," says Montana Representative Brady Wiseman. He has introduced several measures this year to address the growing problem in his state.

"We are seeing addictions at all levels of society," says Wiseman. "But in Montana it has been particularly noticeable among those who are trying to survive financially and are working two jobs and need something to keep them awake."

Senator Jack Critcher has noticed the same patterns in Arkansas. "There are many upper income level people involved--homeowners, bankers, prominent people. It is much more pervasive than anyone would imagine."

California has been particularly hard hit: "Meth is just completely out of control here," says Senator Jackie Speier. "Right now about 85 percent of methamphetamine in the nation is manufactured in our state. Last year we had more than 1,900 meth labs cleaned up by law enforcement at a cost of nearly $3 million. You really have to wonder how much worse it is going to get before it gets better."


For the states, the manufacture and use of methamphetamine presents a plateful of social, child welfare, environmental, criminal justice and economic challenges, all begging to be addressed at the same time.

"We are not just getting hit with the crime that comes with addiction, such as people stealing to pay for drugs," says Dineen Ann Riviezzo, chairwoman of the New York State Commission of Investigation. "We are also dealing with whether or not we have adequate treatment programs, what do we do with the young children who live in these meth labs, and how to clean up the site of a lab, which can be both dangerous and expensive."

At least 17 states in the past few years have passed laws to address drug-endangered children. Some expand the definition of child abuse to include manufacturing a controlled substance in the presence of a child. Others upgrade the crime and enhance the sentence when children are exposed to meth manufacturing. …

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