The Gipper’s Heir

Many of Bush’s most fervent supporters love to see Bush as Ronald Regan’s heir apparent—a straight-talkin’, no-nonsense cowboy who draws a hard line when dealing with perceived external threats to Americans and who isn’t afraid to claim both God and the flag for his own. Never did the comparisons flow so freely as when Reagan died last year, and while the Right waxed rhapsodic about the man who carried on their torch, the Left drew unflattering comparisons between the two administrations’ soaring deficits, cynical pandering to conservative evangelicals, and ignoring of a deepening AIDS crisis—Reagan’s blind eye turned to America; Bush’s to Africa.

Reading Newsweek’s cover story of their August 8 issue this morning, “America’s Most Dangerous Drug,” I realized that there was yet another comparison that begged to be made. As Reagan spent much of his administration ignoring (and, indeed, exploiting) the chronic problem of cocaine and crack use in America, his best stab at combating the problem an ineffectual campaign summed up in three words: Just Say No, Bush steadfastly insists on making marijuana the centerpiece of his war on drugs, while methamphetamine ravages America from sea to shining sea.

The dubious hook upon which the administration hangs its dogged focus on marijuana is the oft-cited assertion that pot is a gateway drug, even though studies have shown convincing evidence to the contrary.
The Bush administration has made marijuana the major focus of its anti-drug efforts, both because there are so many users (an estimated 15 million Americans) and because it considers pot a "gateway" to the use of harder substances. "If we can get a child to 20 without using marijuana, there is a 98 percent chance that the child will never become addicted to any drug," says White House Deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns, of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "While it may come across as an overemphasis on marijuana, you don't wake up when you're 25 and say, 'I want to slam meth!' " But those fighting on the front lines say the White House is out of touch. "It hurts the federal government's credibility when they say marijuana is the No. 1 priority," says Deputy District Attorney Mark McDonnell, head of narcotics in Portland, Ore., which has been especially hard hit. Meth, he says, "is an epidemic and a crisis unprecedented."
Meth users are flooding into American rehab programs and jails; so pervasive in the problem in some areas that local newspapers are beginning to run meth round-ups. The Mail Tribune in Jackson County, Oregon compiles weekly local meth stats to demonstrate the effects of meth on the community. The July 6 edition includes:
Arrests — Nine people were arrested last week and lodged in the Jackson County Jail on meth-related charges. Seven were arrested for possessing meth; one was arrested for possessing, manufacturing and delivering meth; and one was arrested for possessing meth and manufacturing and delivering the controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school. Four arrests were in conjunction with other criminal charges.


Child welfare — The local child welfare office of the state’s department of human services removed 12 children from six homes last week and placed them into protective custody, in part, due to meth use in the family.
Meth babies are the new crack babies, as 40% of child-welfare officials surveyed by the National Association of Counties reported an increase in out-of-home placements last year due to meth. Social services, law enforcement agencies, and drug rehabilitation programs struggle mightily against a lack of resources to combat the exploding problem of methamphetamine use, related crime, and meth manufacture, the latter of which is also of grave concern for the environment, with five pounds of toxic waste resulting for every pound of meth produced.

While these problems exponentially multiply in every region of the country, from rural areas to urban centers, the Bush administration drags its feet:
The drug czar's office hasn't made any legislative proposals, or weighed in on any of those coming from Capitol Hill; officials there say they want to get a better sense of what works before throwing their weight around. Members of Congress whose districts have been ravaged by the drug are forcing the issue: the ranks of the House's bipartisan "meth caucus" have swelled from just four founding members in 2000 to 118 today, and the group has been fighting the administration's efforts to cut federal spending on local law enforcement.


On the Hill last week, the deputy drug czar walked into a buzz saw, as members vented their frustration over his office's level of attention to the problem. "This isn't the way you tackle narcotics," said GOP Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana. "How many years do we have to see the same pattern at an increasing rate in the United States until there's something where we have concrete recommendations, not another cotton-pickin' meeting? ... This committee is trying desperately to say, 'Lead!' "
When the completely batshit insane Mark Souder sounds like the voice of reason, you know this is a serious, serious problem.

Meth is taking its toll on Americans—those who fight the Sisyphean task of fighting the exploding number of addicts and the addicts themselves, who require more time in intensive outpatient or residential drug treatment than currently occurs.
Meth effects can last up to six months for just one use, and the drug can do greater damage to a person's physical, behavioral and thinking functions than many other illicit drugs or alcohol. For this reason, it takes much longer to treat a person with a meth addiction than it does to treat someone with a cocaine or heroin problem. This time factor is also one reason why so many meth treatments currently fail.

Most adult residential drug treatment programs -- the essential first stop for breaking an addiction -- have been shortened from 45 or 30 days to only 10 to 14. The problem is even worse for adolescents. Residential treatment programs for that age group have "dried up" due to budget cuts, Hall said.

A former meth user whose before and after mug shots are used by law enforcement officials to illustrate the devastating effects of methamphetamine addiction. These pictures were taken only three years apart. In the second picture, she is only 42 years old, is 40 pounds lighter than the earlier, pre-addiction picture, and has only two teeth left.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jim Talent (R-MO) have introduced a bill to begin to address the problem, calling for strict restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine-based products, which are used to cook up meth. It’s a start—and it’s surely a nonpartisan issue if ever I saw one, one which we can all get behind. But the next step is having our president make this a priority—and ensure that adequate funding is given to those on the front lines in the battle against meth. Reagan’s inadequate Just Say No campaign failed to reduce the use and trafficking of illegal drugs; the problem actually worsened. Bush’s determination to deal with the meth problem by sticking his head in the sand will elicit the same result. If he doesn’t pull his head out and pay attention, it will be another less than flattering legacy he shares with the Gipper.

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