METH: It Never Really Went Away

By Curtis Hill, Indiana’s Attorney General

In 2004, I testified before members of Congress about the horrific effects of methamphetamine upon the American heartland. Back then, I was serving as prosecutor in Elkhart County, Indiana — and my community was an anomaly. Whereas much of Indiana’s meth came from makeshift drug labs in people’s homes and garages, Elkhart County was besieged with meth imported from Mexico through networks of criminal gangs. Little did we realize the extent to which our local experience was a harbinger of the future.

Throughout the first decade of the 2000’s, law enforcement performed quite efficiently in shutting down homegrown labs — so much so that nowadays the typical source of meth in the United States is a Mexican supplier.

And make no mistake: While other drugs such as opioids have stolen the national substance-abuse spotlight in recent years, the nemesis of methamphetamine continues to destroy lives. In fact, the use of meth and resulting fatalities have skyrocketed in recent years.

From 2012 to 2017, according to a recent USA Today story, meth overdose deaths in the United States increased fourfold — from 2,600 to 10,300. The appetite for this devastating drug has ensured a continued demand, and new methods of manufacturing meth have resulted in a more potent and dangerous drug.

“Philosophically,” I said in 2004, “I recognize that education and treatment programs that work are vital to decreasing the phenomenal demand that fuels the methamphetamine monster. However, interdiction combined with swift and effective law enforcement is the best hope for destroying the organized networks that pump these poisons through our communities.”

The task for law enforcement remains as clear today as it was then: We must put greater emphasis on stopping the flow of meth both at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the United States.

An official with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement recently told a Desert Sun reporter that “old-school police work” is the key to reducing the flow of drugs. “That’s where I think our best money is spent,” said David Shaw, ICE Homeland Special Agent in Charge for San Diego. He cited wiretaps and paid informants as effective investigative tools for identifying and apprehending drug smugglers.

The individual U.S. states must focus greater resources on intercepting drug traffickers traveling through and within their boundaries.

As Indiana’s attorney general, I have valued the opportunity to partner with law enforcement to facilitate grants aimed at strengthening interdiction efforts. My office provides resources to help fund and equip 13 regional highway interdiction teams – or HIT teams, as we call them. This year, these teams reported making 2,654 stops and 667 arrests through Sept. 30. During this time, these teams confiscated 60 pounds of meth — second only to marijuana (283 pounds) in the quantity of any type of drug recovered during stops.

Back in 2004, I told members of Congress: “(A) growing percentage of other crimes indirectly related to methamphetamine activity continue to increase as well. The corrosive effects of domestic violence, child abuse, robberies, burglaries and identity thefts are indirect consequences of methamphetamine activity and are devastating our communities. . . . I believe that it is incumbent upon every productive citizen to take a part in saving our communities from this spiraling decline brought on by illegal drug use.”

When I look at the statements I made in 2004, I realize the same truths I was addressing at that time remain self-evident today. We must bring fresh purpose and vigor to our fight against meth just as we must do in terms of the drug crisis overall.

Treating meth addiction remains a daunting challenge. “Crystal meth accelerates the reward circuits in the brain more powerfully than any other drug we have,” said Dr. Paul Earley, an addiction physician and board president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “There’s no doubt that it causes the most rapid downhill course of any drug.” Further, “no medications have been clinically proven to be effective in the treatment of meth addiction,” according to the same USA Today story quoting Dr. Earley.

A line from the 1983 movie “War Games” best summarizes the battle against meth addiction: “The only winning move is not to play.” Aggressive police interdiction that cuts off supply chains and locks up meth traffickers for long stretches is necessary to tame this beast. Starving the demand for meth will have addicts looking elsewhere for their fix. Hopefully we can meet them there and offer them help. In the meantime, the men and women of law enforcement stand ready to protect our families, neighborhoods and communities from meth. We must make sure they have not only the resources to do so but our continuing appreciation for the job they must do.