The head of the United States' Drug Enforcement Administration is touring the country this year promoting a new program to stop the spread of the illegal drug methamphetamine. Officials say "meth", as the drug is commonly known, is a danger not only to its users, but also to the communities where it is produced.
Methamphetamine is a highly-addictive stimulant and, according to Drug Enforcement Administration Director Asa Hutchinson, is the number one drug problem in rural America. "One, it is highly addictive so it provides a drug that people want and enjoy. It gives them a stronger, longer-lasting high than cocaine or heroin," he said. "Secondly, the availability of the chemicals to produce methamphetamine are at your fingertips."
Mr. Hutchinson says methamphetamine is made by mixing the legal cold and allergy drug pseudoephedrine with common ingredients such as anhydrous ammonia found in fertilizer. He says the waste produced by the manufacturing process often contains toxic chemicals, solvents and heavy metals, which are often dumped illegally and are harmful to the environment. "Whenever you see cocaine and heroin, you know it is manufactured in other countries where they have to deal with the dangerous labs," he said. "Methamphetamine is something we can not blame on our South American neighbors. It is in our backyard."
Mr. Hutchinson is touring 20 U.S. states this year to talk about the methamphetamine problem to local law enforcement, civic and business leaders. He is urging local and federal agents to work together in finding meth labs, which are often located in home garages, motel rooms or even mobile homes. Mr. Hutchinson is also calling on business owners to promote drug testing and treatment programs for their workers, in hopes of reducing demand for the drug.
Most of the communities he is visiting on this tour are not known for serious drug problems, but Mr. Hutchinson says that is his point that Americans need to adjust their image of a typical drug user. "It is the moms, the workers, it is the construction guy trying to work two jobs and get a little bit of extra energy. All of a sudden they are hooked on it and it becomes an extraordinarily addictive and dangerous drug to them."
Last year in the state of Illinois, officials found 270 meth labs, mostly in the rural part of the state. The Chicago area is not considered to have a serious meth problem yet, area police chiefs say they do see evidence of its use more often. "There is a misconception that there is no harm done when you use this," said David Dial, the police chief in suburban Naperville. "I think current medical studies will suggest that it causes permanent brain damage and it can affect other organs."
Scientists say they are still unsure how methamphetamine use by pregnant women affects their fetuses. A five-year study to learn more about that effect recently got under way in five U.S. states. The study's coordinator says meth's effect on unborn children could be worse than cocaine's effect, because methamphetamine stays in the body longer and is more powerful.