Ten years ago, this newspaper sponsored a community town hall meeting on the use and abuse of methamphetamine in South Sound. The illegal drug was consuming an incredible amount of law enforcement and court time and meth labs posed a significant environmental and public health risk.
The statistics for the highly addictive stimulant were staggering. More meth labs were cleaned up statewide in the first nine months of 2001 than in all of 2000. Thurston County logged 105 meth lab cleanups between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2001, while neighboring Pierce County was the state’ s leader with 486 labs. King County busted 200 labs, while Spokane broke up 193 labs.
Nationally, Washington state ranked second behind California in meth raids.
Law enforcement officers and treatment professionals were warning people that they could get hooked on the insidious drug from the very first time they used it. Doctors were seeing more patients move from meth addiction to heroin addiction.
In addition, every time law enforcement officers dismantled a meth lab, they had to safely dispose of hazardous materials. Sometimes it was a mobile meth lab operated out of a van. Other times, it was homes where children were subjected to great health risks every time their parents cooked a new batch of the drug. And just days before the town hall meeting, Lacey police were called to a motel to dispose of toxic chemicals from a meth lab set up in one of the rooms.
But, in the ten years, there has been success in reducing the number of Meth Labs.
Tonight, county officials will meet at the courthouse for another town hall meeting on meth sponsored by the Thurston County Action Team. Speakers will discuss the methamphetamine situation in South Sound 10 years after that first town hall meeting.
They will report on their successes – primarily the decrease in meth labs. Thurston County has gone from a high of 150 meth raids a year to fewer than five in the last couple of years.
Much of the success can be credited to a federal grant that led to the formation of a local enforcement team that made meth its top priority. Laws were changed to take ingredients for meth off the store shelves. Other laws were passed to increase penalties for those caught making and distributing the drug. Parents who brew meth in the presence of their children now face child endangerment charges that carry more jail time than manufacturing charges.
But, there is also work to do.
Sheriff John Snaza says, “ While we may have mostly licked the lab problem, meth is still an epidemic in Thurston County.” Local labs have simply given way to the Mexican drug cartels who import meth to South Sound in large quantities. “ We’ re seeing crazy numbers on that, ” Snaza said.
More young people are using marijuana, Snaza said, and there has been an explosion in prescription drug abuse, mostly opiates like Oxycodone that are as addictive as heroin.
Local young people are attending “ punch bowl parties” where they take their parents’ or grandparents’ prescription drugs, throw then into a bowl and party guests select unknown pills for consumption. “ They don’ t know what they are getting themselves into, ” Snaza said.
The message from tonight’ s town hall meeting must be one of continued vigilance. While the meth lab problem is mostly behind us, other drug problems exist, and, in fact, are growing in severity and impacting the lives of our young people. We, as a community, cannot back away from these challenges.
On the methamphetamine front, the federal government must better secure the border with Mexico and more strictly monitor precursor chemical manufacture offshore. Some states are now adopting an electronic database to monitor and prevent the smurphing of meth precursor chemicals like pseudoephedrine.
Whatever it takes…..