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Methamphetamine Abuse Rising in U.S., Report Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While cocaine use continues to slow, methamphetamine is gradually taking its place as the most widely abused drug in the United States--and use of the potent stimulant is becoming increasingly prevalent in Los Angeles, the federal government reported Tuesday.

Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco now lead the nation’s cities in the number of deaths associated with methamphetamine use, according to the latest quarterly report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. And in usage, meth--as the drug is known--now ranks second behind crack cocaine in popularity in Los Angeles.

The report did not provide specific figures on these findings.

White House drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey called meth a “poor man’s cocaine” because of its wide availability and low cost, and said its abuse represents a “potential epidemic in America.” He said he was especially concerned about the thousands of meth recipes on the Internet and encouraged parents to monitor computer use.

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The study looked at methamphetamine use in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. A random sample of treatment providers, drug researchers and law enforcement officials in each state were interviewed to establish what McCaffrey called a “qualitative insight” into methamphetamine trends in the West--the region hardest hit by meth use, according to the report.

Meth users in California tend to be either high school and college students or 20-somethings of any economic status, the report said. The drug is becoming increasingly popular among Latinos, although white males make up the majority of users, the study found.

In California, meth users tend to use the drug in conjunction with alcohol and marijuana. Of those who enter drug treatment centers because of alcohol or marijuana abuse, 70% to 80% also use meth, the study found. Among drug treatment providers in California interviewed for the study, 61% said meth tends to be a substitute for the pricier cocaine.

Meth can cause a variety of mental, physical and social problems that prompt entry into treatment facilities, according to the report. Several treatment providers in California termed meth abusers “the hardest to treat” among their patients because they tend to be overly excitable and resistant to any form of intervention, the report said.

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McCaffrey also highlighted findings from a larger study of national trends in drug abuse. Overall drug abuse continues to decline but, as other reports have found in recent years, it is on the rise among those under 20 years of age.

Heroin is increasingly popular among inner-city youths, in part because they feel their behavior under its influence is less volatile than with crack, the study found. Heroin use is also rising among college students and suburban kids.

Use of “club drugs,” which include LSD and illegally obtained prescription drugs, is increasingly popular among teenagers at late-night parties, the report said. Often, a number of these drugs are ingested at the same time--so-called “cafeteria use.”

McCaffrey called these trends “disturbing” and said they show President Clinton’s proposed anti-drug media campaign for youth is critically needed. The campaign would spend $175 million annually for five years on anti-drug messages targeted at the 9- to 17-year-old group.


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