The Coastal Post - April, 1998

Methamphetamine: The Triple-Headed Monster

By Attorney General Dan Lungren

In the high desert of Los Angeles County, a four-year-old girl was discovered beaten to death by her parents, who had inflicted upon her major gashes, bruises and human bite marks.

In a Southern California mobile home park, three young children died in a fire while all of the adult occupants of the home-including the children's mother-fled the scene to conceal their criminal activity and did nothing to save the children.

In San Diego County, an ex-National Guardsman broke into a National Guard armory, stole a tank, and proceeded down the freeway crushing cars and center dividers. The rampage could not be stopped until police shot and killed the driver.

In each of these heinous cases there was one common ingredient-methamphetamine.

Also known as "crank," "speed," "ice," or simply "meth," methamphetamine-as evident in the true life stories above-is a dangerous and deadly drug, the use of which is rapidly on the rise. During my first term as Attorney General, I visited all 58 counties in California to meet with the local district attorney and sheriff to determine what problems were of top priority in their counties. At that time, only a handful even mentioned methamphetamine as an issue.

Since my re-election in 1994, I have again visited all 58 counties throughout California. In all but one of them, local law enforcement has told me that methamphetamine is their number one problem.

Methamphetamine is truly a unique drug-what I call a "triple-headed monster"-representing often violent and fatal consequences, the costs and dangers associated with lab clean-up and the aftermath of environmental hazards associated with its production.

Use of methamphetamine frequently causes a drastic increase in violence, causing users to commit spousal abuse, child abuse, physical assaults or homicide. In Arizona, a man high on methamphetamine decapitated his 14-year-old son and then tossed the dismembered head onto a New Mexico highway-because he thought the boy was a demon. A former meth addict quoted in the Phoenix Gazette said, "You don't really care about the things you're doing. You don't care if you hurt somebody. You don't care if you take somebody's life."

In 1995, methamphetamine was for the first time listed more often than any other drug, including alcohol, as the primary problem for people checking into substance abuse treatment programs in the country.

Even more tragic, in a 1996 study by my office it was found that 35% of children found at lab sites tested positive for methamphetamine in their system. And the problem doesn't stop there.

Crude laboratories making methamphetamine from dangerous chemicals have become a menace to neighbors and a danger to law enforcement officers who discover them. In fact, one out of every six labs seized involves an explosion.

In California, the number of methamphetamine labs seized statewide continues to skyrocket. While the Drug Enforcement Agency seized a total of 615 labs outside of California in 1996, federal, state and local law enforcement seized over 1,500 labs in California alone.

My Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement agents have told me recently that they believe over 1,800 labs-and possibly as many as 2,100-were taken down in California in 1997 by local, state and federal authorities. The Golden State now has the unfortunate distinction of being, in the lingo of the DEA, a "source nation" for methamphetamine being distributed across the entire country.

The aftermath of these labs toxic to the environment is expensive clean-up. Currently, the California Department of Toxic Substance Control is spending about $4 million per year on lab clean-up. Still, these toxins continue to pollute our land, our air and our water.

I am happy to report that our calls to state and federal authorities for help to fight this growing epidemic have been answered. In October, 1997, Governor Wilson signed legislation by my office (AB 1173-Olberg) which tightens controls over the manufacture, distribution and sale of controlled substances, and precursor chemical that can be used to make methamphetamine.

In November 1997, federal legislation, proposed and sponsored by my office, was signed by the President, resulting in an additional $18.2 million to fight the growing methamphetamine problem in California.

This measure appropriates the money to implement the California Methamphetamine Strategy, a comprehensive plan that will focus on methamphetamine production and distribution organizations throughout California with three major goals:

To control and regulate the chemicals used to make methamphetamine;

to prioritize the location, investigation and seizure of clandestine labs where methamphetamine is manufactured, prosecute lab operators and conduct environmental clean-up at lab sites; and

to educate the public about the "triple-headed monster"-and the violent and often-fatal consequences of using methamphetamine, the danger of lab clean-up and the environmental costs of methamphetamine production.

This strategy fuels the war against this addictive, destructive drug. I applaud Congress and the President for realizing that to effectively fight meth all over the country, we must start the battle in California. We must focus on this problem and stop it in its tracks-before the tragedies we have faced in California become a reality for the entire nation.

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