The politics of meth

  • by Bob Roehr
  • Wednesday August 24, 2005
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The Bush administration unveiled its modest initiative on methamphetamine abuse at a Nashville drug court on August 18. The administration has largely ignored the legal, medical, and social problems associated with meth use over the last five years.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt called the plan a balanced approach of prevention, treatment, and strong enforcement. It includes $16.2 million in grants over three years for expanded treatment. A million dollars in advertising money will be redirected from marijuana to meth education and prevention.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, "The scourge of methamphetamines demands unconventional thinking and innovative solutions to fight the devastation it leaves behind."

"If he believed that, he'd be here," Allan Clear told the opening session of the first National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis. The conference ran from August 19-21 in Salt Lake City, Utah, one of the states hardest hit by the surge in rural meth use. Clear is executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition.

"We're looking for a scream, not a peep," said Representative Mark Souder (R-Indiana) in Washington. The social conservative was not impressed with the administration's initiative. "This proposal, unfortunately, doesn't have anything new in it. At my last hearing they waived a report with a list of recommendations, and this was all in it."

But Souder was not exactly a fan of the conference either. He lambasted the harm reduction approach to meth, embraced by many of its organizers, as a cover to legalizing drugs.

In an August 12 letter to Leavitt, Souder demanded to know why HHS contributed $3,000 in travel scholarships for the conference. He also asked for the names of government employees who would be attending it.

Souder has been the leader in pushing for "accountability" in HIV prevention activities that many AIDS advocates have seen as harassment.

"I vigorously disagree with Representative Souder," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson told the conference.

The drug war has failed, Anderson said during a locally broadcast panel discussion. "The cost of drugs has gone down precipitously and purity has increased," even while incarcerations have skyrocketed.