Federal Officials Announce Meth Measures
In an apparent response to congressional charges that the Bush administration was ignoring methamphetamine abuse, three high-level officials went to a Tennessee drug court Thursday to offer “innovative solutions” to combat a problem that has spread rapidly across the country.
“The scourge of methamphetamine demands unconventional thinking and innovative solutions to fight the devastation it leaves behind,” Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales said. “I have directed U.S. attorneys to make prosecution of methamphetamine-related crimes a top priority and seek the harshest penalties.”
Gonzales was joined in Nashville by the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, John P. Walters, and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to announce $1 million for anti-meth ads; $16.2 million over three years for treatment grants; and a new website, www.MethResources.gov, which contains information about the drug.
But critics in Congress, who have said their constituents demand more action against users, called the measures far too little and possibly too late.
Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), chairman of a House Government Reform subcommittee that authorizes legislation involving drug control, has held hearings criticizing the administration for not taking strong enough measures to fight meth.
“We’re looking for a scream, not a peep,” he said. “This proposal, unfortunately, doesn’t have anything new in it. At my last hearing they waved a report with a list of recommendations, and this was all in it.”
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), a clinical psychologist who worked in drug treatment programs before his election to Congress, said he was happy to see the administration break its focus on marijuana. “On the rhetoric front, over the last four to five years, they have said very little about meth,” he said.
The administration has repeatedly put forward statistics showing that the numbers of drug lab busts, high school students using the drug, and interceptions of drugs that can be used to make meth were all on the decline. Walters said last month that there was no meth epidemic, though he did note Thursday that the drug posed “unique” problems.
But Baird said the change of attitude would offer little comfort to local law enforcement and treatment programs, whose federal aid had been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
This year, the administration sought to cut more than $1 billion from assistance to local police forces, but bipartisan votes restored $360 million.
“You have to ask how they can take credit” for the reduced use of meth among high school students “when they’ve proposed cutting those very programs,” Baird said.
Richard Rawson, associate director of UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, praised the planned anti-meth advertisements.
“There have been no efforts to educate the public about the dangers of meth,” he said. “In California and around the rest of the country, that could be very helpful. In schools, there have been no meth-related materials.”
But Souder called the money earmarked for ads meaningless. “A million is nothing.” The money might cover “Kansas, Nebraska and maybe Kentucky, but the House already passed $25 million for meth in the upcoming appropriations bill.”
Rawson said Thursday’s event appeared to be a response to congressional pressure. But members of Congress were apparently not informed about it; Rep. Ken Calvert of Corona, one of two Republican co-chairmen of the Congressional Meth Caucus, learned about it through news reports, according to his spokesman.
Calvert said in a statement that the measures announced Thursday were “an improvement,” but “we still need a better national and international strategy” to halt meth production, smuggling and usage.
The administration said it supported a law to make it harder to buy large quantities of pseudoephedrine, a drug common in over-the-counter decongestants that is a key ingredient in homemade meth.
But the White House has not said it would back legislation that would require retailers to keep products containing the chemical behind the counter.
A cosponsor of that legislation, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said: “I am surprised and disappointed that the Bush administration did not endorse one of the most effective tools in the battle against meth.”
The other sponsor, Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), called the administration’s plan “inadequate” and said it didn’t “go far enough to restrict products containing pseudoephedrine.”
A similar law in Iowa has contributed to a steep decline in the number of meth labs. In July, the state found only nine labs, compared with 92 in July 2004.
Iowa’s drug policy coordinator, Marvin L. Van Haaften, said it was good news that the Office of National Drug Control Policy had acknowledged meth was a problem.
“Mostly they haven’t wanted to go there,” he said. “They’ve wanted to talk about marijuana and other drugs.”