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Meth Has Captured Lawmakers' Attention

July 1, 2006
by Andrew Kessler and Mark D'Alessio
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The message has been made quite clear: Lawmakers are concerned about methamphetamine, and not only because of the crime and threat to public health it carries with it. Damage to the environment, the threat of injury while it is being manufactured, the number of children abandoned by addicts, and a slew of other societal ills continue to leave their mark in relation to this destructive drug. Methamphetamine and its problems have sparked the formation of a bipartisan coalition in Congress dedicated to taking the necessary steps to prevent and treat meth addiction.

Since the 109th Congress convened in January 2005, no less than 58 pieces of introduced legislation have mentioned methamphetamine. By comparison, fewer than 10 bills mentioned heroin and only 13 mentioned alcohol.

The number of methamphetamine labs, users, and convictions has steadily risen since the late 1990s. What began as a problem primarily for Western states has spread across the Rockies and into the heartland, all the time showing no sign of decelerating. Meth is grabbing the attention of lawmakers as no other drug has in recent memory.

Varying legislative approaches

Members of Congress have suggested a variety of approaches to address the meth scourge. An adopted House resolution that was introduced by Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) calls for a National Methamphetamine Awareness Week. S 430, the Arrest Methamphetamine Act of 2005, addresses meth's production, sale, and use. HR 13, the CLEAN-UP (Clean, Learn, Educate, Abolish, Neutralize, and Undermine Production) of Methamphetamines Act, is environmentally focused, allowing for the proper cleanup of meth labs and the study of these labs' health and environmental impacts.

S 103, the Combat Meth Act of 2005, proposed solutions through both the criminal justice system and the treatment community. Sponsored by Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), this act has been the most comprehensive proposal to date in regard to meth's abuse, manufacturing, and treatment. The bill attracted nearly 50 cosponsors, demonstrating bipartisan support.

Production and use of methamphetamine has exploded in Talent's home state. The number of meth lab seizures in Missouri skyrocketed from 439 in 1999 to 2,788 in 2004. Admission rates for treatment regarding methamphetamine in the state rose from 5.2 per 100,000 in 1992 to 86.2 per 100,000 in 2002, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administra-tion report in 2004.

In late January 2005, the act was introduced on the Senate floor and referred to the Judiciary Committee. Eventually, most of its major provisions became part of the Patriot Act as that bill came before Congress for reauthorization and was approved.

Roger Curtiss, immediate past-president of NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, and clinical manager of Gateway Community Services in Great Falls, Montana, explained the allure of methamphetamine this way in testimony before a Senate panel last January: “Meth is not a drug that gets you drunk like alcohol or stoned like pot. … The thing that meth does … is it makes you feel bright, awake, and happy. You feel good about yourself, no matter how bad things may be. … Meth is a drug of deception.”

Curtiss added, “Meth increases alertness and reduces fatigue; it elevates the user's mood and, at the right dose, creates euphoria. Along with this, meth boosts the user's initiative and self-confidence. In a culture that includes the terms ‘fast lane’ and ‘fast track,’ meth is made to order.”

The Combat Meth Act includes restraints on the sale of products that contain pseudoephedrine or ephedrine; these over-the-counter products have been used greatly in meth's manufacturing. The legislation requires that these products be dispensed by a licensed pharmacist or pharmacy technician, with the purchaser providing photo identification and signing a written log. It also calls for a cap on the amount of products containing pseudoephedrine that a customer could purchase without a prescription (9 grams per 30-day period).

The Combat Meth Act calls for funding increases for states to address the meth problem; the monies can be used for law enforcement and treatment services, and for children exposed to the drug's production. The act authorizes $3 million in grant money to nonprofit organizations, which could engage in these specific activities:

  • research and evaluation of the effectiveness of treatment modalities for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction;

  • dissemination of information to public and private entities on effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction; and

  • training on the effects of methamphetamine use and on effective ways of treating methamphetamine abuse to substance abuse treatment professionals and community leaders.

“For a while it seemed that no drug could get us addicted any faster and involve quite so much money and violence as crack and cocaine,” stated Curtiss. “Meth has changed that. Alcoholics may drink for years before becoming dependent on the drug alcohol, and dependency on cannabis may also take months or years to develop. Someone using meth, however, may exhibit serious signs of dependence from several weeks to several months after initially taking the drug.”

NAADAC's favored approach

A piece of legislation currently being considered in the Senate is S 2315. This act would amend the Public Health Service Act to establish a federally supported education and awareness campaign to prevent meth use. Introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), the Methamphetamine Awareness and Prevention Act of 2006 focuses on treatment and prevention. It falls in line with NAADAC's support of treatment-focused legislation.