WASHINGTON – A number of years ago, I visited a Middle Tennessee high school and asked a group of students to tell me about the most troubling issue facing them. The response shocked me. These students weren’t concerned about getting a date to the prom, passing their next test or winning the upcoming football game; they were concerned about friends who were trying meth.
Statistics about meth use are alarming. According to the results of the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 22 million Americans were current users of an illicit drug. The same survey stated the number of Americans age 12 and older who were current meth users rose 60 percent from 2008 to 2009.
According to the Rand Corporation, the economic cost to society of meth use in 2005 was between $16.2 billion and $48.3 billion. With meth use rates rising again, these costs will continue to go up and will continue to siphon already strapped state and local resources away from important programs.
Now, after years of trying to combat this epidemic, what have we learned?
Meth directly impacts not only the lives of users, but also the lives of their families and neighbors. Production poses a huge danger to those who cook it, and to those who inhabit the contaminated space long after the drug is removed. It will take the support and efforts of all of us to defeat this epidemic. It is now clearer than ever that fighting the spread and use of meth requires a comprehensive multi-pronged approach, addressing the manufacturing of meth, clean up of lab sites and smuggling of meth across the border.
In 2006, Congress approved the most comprehensive bill to date targeting the spread of meth by bringing all pseudoephedrine products, products which are used to make meth, behind the counter in pharmacies and grocery stores.
For a time, this approach worked, and meth abuse rates went down. But the criminals who cook and distribute this dangerous drug have exploited loopholes in the laws that regulate the sale of precursor materials. As a result, we have once again seen an increase in the distribution, use and manufacturing of meth across the country. In Tennessee, meth seizures have increased 50 percent in the past year.
On the federal level, Congress recently approved a bill I authored placing stronger restrictions on those who sell the precursor chemicals used to make meth. It is now waiting for the President’s signature to become law.
Earlier bills designed to target the spread of meth created invaluable local, state and federal law enforcement partnerships to help detect meth labs. In 2007, I authored the Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act, which was signed into law. One portion of the law directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop meth detection equipment for field use. Without a doubt, these efforts have helped increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our local and state officials in detecting meth labs.
That law also required the Environmental Protection Agency to develop model, voluntary, health-based clean-up guidelines for use by states and localities with the goal of making sure the sites of former meth labs are safe and livable.
Finally, we must combat the illegal transport and smuggling of meth from outside our borders. The annual National Drug Threat Assessment indicated authorities seized more than 3,500 kilograms of meth in 2009, a 60 percent increase from 2008. Even Tennessee, annually one of the highest meth producing states, imported the majority of consumed meth from Mexico and southwest border states.
Increased border security plays a big role in keeping methamphetamine out of Middle Tennessee communities. This August, I supported a bill to provide $600 million for additional border security funding. The money will be used for border security activities, including hiring more border patrol agents, customs officers and justice officials. It also funds 1,200 members of the National Guard who are now stationed at the border to support various Department of Homeland Security agencies for the next year.
I don’t want any of Tennessee’s children to have to worry about friends using meth as they get older. In the end, it comes down to us, as individuals, as families, as friends, and as communities, to address this issue. Meth is an epidemic, but with continued support and effort, it can and will be defeated.