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Meth Use Decreasing, but Production Still a Concern

The nation’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, recently visited St. Louis, Missouri, to launch a new anti-methamphetamine campaign. Some describe St. Louis as “the heart of meth country.” State officials discussed a plan to require prescriptions for over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine, the core ingredient of meth.

Although officials in Missouri say they continue to have a serious problem with meth production, a study released last week shows that the use of methamphetamine has dropped dramatically.

From 2006 to 2008, the number of people aged 12 and over who used meth in the previous month dropped by nearly 60 percent to 314,000, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. At the same time, illicit drug use of all kinds in the U.S. dropped by less than 4 percent.

The study also showed that fewer people are trying meth for the first time: The number of first-time users dropped by more than 60 percent to 95,000.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that although the numbers are encouraging, law enforcement officials are still concerned about the problem because meth is highly addictive and its production leaves behind toxic waste.

Law enforcement officials credited the drop in meth use to past efforts, including laws that control access to over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine and programs that keep tabs on other meth ingredients.

"It's really not surprising," said Sgt. Jason Clark of the Missouri Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control. "But just because it's less of a problem than it was two years ago doesn't mean you quit turning up the fire, turning down the screws."

The survey, conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is considered the government's primary source of data on drug use. It has been conducted since 1971, with about 70,000 participants a year.

While the 2008 survey found drops in meth and prescription drug abuse, use of marijuana and hallucinogens increased among some age groups. But the drop in meth was especially welcome to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, led by Kerlikowske.

The new anti-meth campaign reflects the reported declining use: The ads focus less on scaring people about meth and more on getting current users to seek treatment and not give up hope. "The campaign's focus is on how addiction is treatable," said Bob Denniston, director of the campaign.

Although meth use has dropped, it is still being produced in Missouri. The number of meth labs and dump sites found in Missouri jumped from 2007 to 2008 after two years of flat numbers. The first six months of 2009 indicate things are getting worse.

"We're still seeing that there's a significant problem of methamphetamine use just by the number of meth labs that we're seizing," said Cpl. Gerald Williams of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. "If they're still making it, there's still demand."

But Williams acknowledged that it's difficult to know the extent of the problem. Maybe there are fewer users, he said, but his team is getting better at finding and busting labs, so the number of busts has remained constant. "We don't know if we haven't caught them what's still out there," Williams said.

Posted on September 16th, 2009
Posted in Methamphetamines

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