Sunday, January 23, 2011

As It Stands: Speed Kills -- so why is meth still scourging our society?

By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard

Posted: 01/23/2011 01:21:42 AM PST

I was getting ready to go home when a sheriff's deputy walked into my office and asked if I'd like to have exclusive access to a major news story. It was the summer of 1982, and I was the editor of The Desert Trail Newspaper in 29 Palms, Calif. Of course, I jumped at the invitation.

It meant leaving immediately. I had just time to grab my camera and to tell my secretary to call my wife and say I'd be home late. The deputy drove me to the local sheriff's substation where other law enforcement types had gathered for the night's operations. They were putting on their SWAT gear and checking their assault weapons. A sign on the wall read, “Speed Kills.”

One of the men stepped forward and introduced himself as Floyd Tidwell, county sheriff. He was obviously excited and told me I would accompany him on a series of meth raids throughout the Morongo Basin. We boarded a helicopter to our first destination; a meth house in the middle of Wonder Valley.

We went to six other locations, ranging from bars to motel rooms, busting addicts and recovered lots of crystal meth. I got home at 3 a.m. and wrote the story. At the time, desert meth labs were more plentiful than red ants in San Bernardino County.

Flash forward. I'm retired and living in Humboldt County. It's 2004 and Humboldt has the highest rate of methamphetamine use of any county in the state. I wonder if the meth addicts migrated north? A strong effort on the part of the Humboldt County Health Department addressed the problem by organizing a community coalition to combat meth addiction.

A one-hour documentary called “Life After Meth” shown on KEET-TV in May 2006. It was the result of a project called “Community Voices for Meth Awareness.” Claire Reynolds, director of community relations and outreach for KEET-TV, spearheaded the project.

“The Methamphetamine Fact Book: A Community Handbook and Resource Guide” was produced and has been updated numerous times since. Tracking laws designed to catch profiteers who buy over-the-counter pills with pseudoephedrine in them and sell them to meth makers were enacted in 2006. The problem is the number of meth busts is climbing again as people take advantage of the huge markups meth producers pay for the ingredients.

According to an Associated Press analysis of federal data on the 2006 law's consequences, it's not slowing down the meth market. There was a small decline for two years until people figured a way around the new law.

”It's almost like a sub-criminal culture,” said Gary Boggs, an agent at the Drug Enforcement Agency in a recent AP interview. “You see them with a GPS unit set up in a van and a list of every single pharmacy or retail outlet. They'll spend the entire week going store to store and buying the limit.”

Last September, the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported a 60 percent one-year increase in the number of meth users. There's no doubt that meth use is on the rise in this country.

The only thing that can be done is to continue to educate people about the harm meth does to users and everyone around them. If you want to know if you live near a former meth lab go to and put in your address, state, or ZIP code in the search area. I came up with three addresses in Eureka.

To get help for meth addiction call the Humboldt County Health and Human Services Department at (707) 441-5400, or the Humboldt County Drug Addiction Treatment and Alcohol & other Drug Programs at (707) 476-4054. They offer guidance and information for addicts and their families.

I know when I first came up to Humboldt in 1979, meth was not a problem. As I left and came back twice over the years, I noticed meth addicts becoming more common. I like to think we've made some progress since the dubious notoriety we had in 2004, but when I see strung-out meth users in stores and on the streets, I have to wonder.

As It Stands, we've known “Speed kills” since the '60s, so it's discouraging to see that meth is still popular nearly a half-century later.

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