Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Walters: Meth Lab Seizures Drop in 2005


Washington (AP) - Police seizures of illegal meth labs dropped more than 30 percent last year, the Bush administration said Monday, as more states and drugstore chains began limiting access to ingredients used to make the highly addictive drug.

Also Monday, the nation's largest drug testing company said the number of job applicants and workers who test positive for meth plunged 31 percent over the first five months of this year.

White House drug czar John Walters said the two reports are evidence that the "one-two punch" to restrict chemicals and educate the public about the horrors of meth addiction are finally paying off.

"What this information shows is, on supply and demand, we are making a dramatic difference," said Walters, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

But some federal lawmakers give most of the credit to state and local governments, saying the decline in meth abuse has come despite the absence of national direction.

Rep. Mark Souder, chairman of the House drug policy subcommittee, said the administration has refused to make combatting meth a priority. He criticized a White House budget proposal to slash federal spending for state and local law enforcement to fight meth.

"Efforts to continue to downplay the threat, after working to cut funding for anti-meth efforts, are only making those who fight the meth epidemic daily more angry at this administration," said Souder, R-Ind.

Meth lab seizures declined from 17,562 in 2004 to 12,185 last year, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration's El Paso Intelligence Center, which compiles information on clandestine laboratories seized within the United States.

The drop was steepest in the Western and central western regions of the country, particularly states that were among the first and hardest hit by meth abuse and the dangerous makeshift labs where the drug is made from pseudoephedrine _ found in many store-bought cold medicines _ and household chemicals.

Oklahoma, for example, saw a drop of 68 percent, while lab busts in Montana fell by 66 percent and Oregon declined 60 percent. Missouri, which leads the nation in lab seizures, saw a 22 percent decline.

Those states are among at least 37 states with laws that restrict the sale of cold medications in an effort to starve meth manufacturers of their key ingredient. The federal Combat Meth Act, signed into law in March, will enforce similar restrictions across the country by Sept. 30.

In the drug test findings, Quest Diagnostics Inc. said its data showed workplace meth use fell 31 percent since 2005 and 45 percent since a peak in 2004. The Teterboro, N.J.-based company analyzed nearly 7.5 million drug tests in 2005 and about 3 million tests from January to May 2006.

While less than 1 percent of the nation's population uses meth, more than half of the nation's counties report that meth is their largest drug problem.

Earlier this month, the White House drug policy office set a goal to cut meth use by 15 percent by 2009 and increase seizures of meth labs by 25 percent. A priority is stemming the flow of meth from superlabs in Mexico, which supply about 80 percent of the drug to the United States.

At a congressional hearing last week, Democratic and Republican lawmakers called the plan weak and said they remain frustrated that the Bush administration downplays the problem of meth.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said it appeared the administration had not spent enough time consulting with local officials before releasing the anti-meth strategy.

In an interview, Walters dismissed the criticism.

"No one's trying to downplay it," Walters said. "There's no drug worse than meth."

But he said his office can't focus too much on a single drug at the expense of other threats like heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs and marijuana.

By Sam Hananel


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