Special Meeting Finds “No Place
to Hide” from the Dangers of Drug Abuse
By Ed Somers
The “Drug Crisis in Cities and Rural Communities” was the focus of a special one-day session held in Washington, DC on the first day of The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 68th Winter Meeting.
The special meeting was chaired by Conference Vice President Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles, who also co-chairs the Drug Control Task Force along with Gary Mayor Scott King.
The special January 26 meeting focused on the rapidly emerging issue of methamphetamine (meth) in America, the unique needs of smaller and mid-sized communities to deal with the crisis, and prevention, treatment and interdiction strategies for meth which can be applied to cities of all sizes as meth spreads across the nation.
In opening the meeting, Mayor Coles stated, “Drug use has impacted our families, our neighborhoods, our children, and we know first hand as mayors... that the pressure is on us to make a difference.” “But we also know that it is very helpful to bring the resources of the federal government to bear on this critical national issue,” Coles added.
Coles stated that while larger communities have been working effectively on the issue of drug control, “Rural communities have been caught off guard by the importation and local manufacturing of meth... and have little access to drug treatment.”
Participants included Attorney General Janet Reno, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Barry McCaffrey, Dr. Nelba Chavez, Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Donnie Marshall, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Sen. John Ashcroft (MO).
The meeting featured a special video presentation on the devastation caused by meth in cities of all sizes, as well as anti-meth ads prepared by ONDCP.
The meeting concluded with luncheon remarks by His Excellency Andrés Pastrana Arango, President of the Republic of Colombia. In his address and discussions with the mayors, President Pastrana spoke of the importance of increased cooperation and collaboration between the United States and Colombia in addressing illegal drug production, consumption and trafficking, and the scourge this trade presents to both societies. (See story on page14.)
While over 80 percent of all of the meth used by U.S. citizens is supplied by major Mexican drug organizations, the remaining 10 to 20 percent of domestically produced meth is a major cost on society. As covered in the video presentation, meth is being produced in dangerous labs with deadly chemicals exposed to children and adults. Explosions are common, and there is often severe environmental damage from meth production.
Meth is being produced domestically from products which can be bought over the counter such as drain cleaner, paint thinner, starter fluid, pseudo-amphetamines, batteries and red phosphorus.
In addition, the cost of meth lab cleanup averages $3,000 per site, with cases reaching as high as $100,000. Local police and fire personnel must be equipped with special safety suits in order to come in contact with the highly toxic chemicals.
In preparing for the meeting, the Conference of Mayors sent a questionnaire to members on the impact of meth in their communities. Over 60 mayors responded in a short time period, and these responses will be compiled and used by the Conference in the continuing fight against meth in America.
The U.S. Department of Justice and ONDCP also released the report of the federal inter-agency task force on methamphetamine during the special session.
Report Documents Rural and Smaller-City Drug Problem
Helping to set the context for the meeting was a new report prepared by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, led by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Carter. CASA has been working closely with the Conference of Mayors over the past year in preparation for the January 26 meeting.
The CASA report, entitled “No Place to Hide: Substance Abuse in Mid-Sized Cities and Rural America,” documents that youth substance abuse is higher in rural areas than in cities, and that adult substance abuse in mid-sized cities and rural areas is on par with more urban areas. The report was commissioned by the Conference of Mayors and funded by the Drug Enforcement Administration. A copy of the report can be found on www.usmayors.org/uscm.
The report found that in 1999, when comparing 8th-graders in cities versus rural areas, rural children were:
On the growth of meth production in America, the report found that DEA seizures of meth labs increased seven-fold in the past five years, from 224 in 1994 to 1,627 in 1998.
In addition, local and state police seized an additional 4,132 clandestine labs in 1998.
An important finding in the report is that while meth has been predominantly a problem for western states, meth lab seizures are spreading across the nation. (See charts on page 15.)
As stated by Mr. Califano, “Anecdotal evidence now suggests that meth may be making its way to the East Coast. From January to November of 1999, police in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia seized approximately $1 million of the drug, raising concern that the area may be an East Coast hub for meth trafficking.”
In commenting on the meth problem, Mr. Califano said, “Bluntly put, meth has come to Main Street, along with other drugs with magnum force.” “Smaller communities have greater difficulty in providing accessible drug treatment programs and attracting trained substance abuse professionals, school nurses and counselors,” Califano added.