I visited a big box store the other day and was pleasantly surprised when the pharmacy clerk politely explained to another customer why the cold remedy Sudafed was being kept behind the counter. That's because key ingredients contained in Sudafed are used to manufacture methamphetamines, illegal drugs that are proliferating around here.
The meth epidemic is so serious in Carson City and vicinity that Mayor Marv Teixeira has made it his top priority with strong backing from Sheriff Ken Furlong and District Attorney Noel Waters. They have created the Partnership Carson City Coalition, which is alerting local parents and school children to the dangers of methamphetamines, which are known as "crank" and "crystal meth" in the drug community. As a first step, the Partnership sponsored a series of informational meetings at local schools.
Those meetings revealed that many Carson City residents are already well aware of the devastating effects of meth addiction. In fact, Sheriff Furlong's adult daughter was a victim of our local meth epidemic before she managed to turn her life around. Her hopeful story illustrates what parents can do for their addicted children when they confront drug problems head-on and reach out for professional assistance.
Last summer, the Sacramento Bee published a story on the growing meth problem in California's Central Valley. "Methamphetamine has now spread well beyond the Central Valley to become the leading drug problem in a majority of communities nationwide," the Bee warned. "Officials in every region except the Northeast called meth their top drug problem, according to a survey of 500 counties by the National Association of Counties."
That's certainly true here in Carson, where a top official of the Sheriff's Office told me that the problem is not only increasing, but "the meth is getting more pure," some of it up to 80 percent pure, which can be fatal to addicts. As Appeal Publisher John DiMambro wrote last Sunday, you only have to look at before and after photos of meth addicts to understand the drug's horribly destructive effects.
The Bee reported that 87 percent of the counties surveyed, including Carson City, noted an increase in the number of meth-related arrests over the past three years. And 70 percent of the counties surveyed blamed meth for an increase in the number of local robberies and burglaries, and many counties had to "remove more children from meth-tainted families," which is one of the saddest aspects of this pervasive problem.
Fortunately, the federal government is beginning to take strong action against meth trafficking and production. There is strong support in Congress for a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., that would limit access to Sudafed and other cold remedies containing ingredients used in meth production. It would also limit the quantity of such medicines that an individual could purchase monthly.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers urged the Bush administration to pay more attention to the nationwide meth epidemic and legislation was introduced to levy tougher sentences against meth makers and dealers, and to stem the flow of the drug into the U.S. from Mexico, where two-thirds of U.S.-bound meth is manufactured. From my experience as a court interpreter, I can personally attest to the involvement of the Mexican Mafia in the Northern Nevada drug trade because more than half of my "clients" are involved with drugs in one way or another.
Lawmakers criticized the Bush administration's decision to end an $804 million Justice Assistance Program, which funds regional drug task forces, like our local Tri-Net task force. "We want a federal ... strategy to attack meth that is equal to the urgency and action that's taking place in so many communities around the United States," said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., co-chairman of a bipartisan congressional anti-drug caucus.
Although law enforcement agencies are shutting down small meth labs nationwide, the Christian Science Monitor reports that the drug crackdown "is being undermined by Mexican 'super labs' able to produce at least 10 pounds of meth in 24 hours." Unfortunately, we have our fair share of those small meth labs at isolated sites in the vast Nevada desert.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, "Mexican meth production and meth smuggling from Mexico - largely through Arizona - have increased sharply" in recent years. And that's another reason why the Feds must redouble their efforts to control illegal immigration, which supplies thousands of human "mules" to the Mexican drug cartels that ship their deadly products to the U.S. But in a hopeful sign, federal anti-drug agents seized 209 pounds of meth and destroyed 56 clandestine labs in several states during Operation Wildfire last August.
Although there has been considerable progress on the anti-meth front in recent months, much more must be done to bring this lethal epidemic under control in our community and throughout the nation. For starters, we can support Mayor Marv, Sheriff Furlong and DA Waters in their long overdue anti-meth campaign.
For far too long, this problem was one of the capital city's dirty little secrets. But now, we're shining the bright light of media attention into the dark corners of our town where the drug trade thrives, and citizens are stepping forward to identify those who sell this poison to our children.
n Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, served on the front lines of the War on Drugs during a 28-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.