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Billings Gazette - "Attorney General Recounts Successes Vs. Meth"

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Location: Miles City, MT


Billings Gazette - "Attorney General Recounts Successes Vs. Meth"
During the second and final day of the Eastern Montana Meth Summit on Friday, people involved in the fight against methamphetamine got to hear some good news.

A day earlier, the more than 110 people attending the summit heard heart-rending stories about how meth had devastated two Montana families.

Friday, they listened as the Montana attorney general recounted the successes of the 2005 Montana Legislature and as a national leader in the drug wars told them how they can duplicate his victories in communities across the state.

Attorney General Mike McGrath said the most important piece of legislation passed by the Legislature before it adjourned on Thursday was Senate Bill 287, which requires medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to be sold only in pharmacies and to be kept behind the counter.

McGrath said a similar law in Oklahoma, the only other state to pass one, reduced the number of meth labs in that state by 80 percent. Ephedrine is a key ingredient in meth manufacture.

Starting July 1, McGrath said, anyone buying more than 9 grams of a medicine containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine will have to show an ID and sign for the purchase. In counties with no pharmacies - there are 10 such counties in Montana - retailers will be allowed to apply for permission to sell the restricted medicines, subject to the same rules as pharmacies.

Other important pieces of legislation, McGrath said, include:

# House Bill 60, which established standards for the cleanup of indoor property contaminated by the clandestine manufacture of meth.

# SB166, which makes the theft of any amount of anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that is another ingredient in meth, a felony.

# HB44, a related bill that requires the owners of tanks of anhydrous ammonia to keep the tanks locked.

# HB721, which encourages the creation of drug treatment courts, widely seen as one of the best ways to deal with meth addicts after they enter the criminal justice system.

# HB326, which will allow courts to require people convicted of a second drug offense to enroll in a drug-treatment program.

Another vital action, McGrath said, was the Legislature's restoration of lost funding for the seven regional and one statewide drug task forces in Montana. Those groups received $2.1 million in federal funding last year, he said, but that sum is to be cut in half this year, which would have crippled the task forces. McGrath said the Legislature filled the funding gap.

McGrath said the state has to do everything in its power to fight what he called "this scourge."

"In my 24 years in law enforcement," he said, "I've never seen anything like meth."

Neither has James Copple, who addressed the meth summit Friday morning. Copple is the director of the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness and the founding president of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, and there are few substance abuse problems he hasn't been involved in fighting.

But meth is in a class by itself because of its power to destroy individuals and communities, he said. Efforts to stem underage drinking, combat marijuana use and the abuse of other drugs must continue, but meth "has got to be our No. 1 issue," Copple said.

Copple, who lives in Maryland but has helped organize community responses to drugs across the country, told summit attendees that the most significant risk factor for youths - in regard to drug use, sex and other activities - is unsupervised time. He said supervised time is critical, and he assured parents that studies have shown "kids actually do want that adult engagement in their lives."

He also outlined five components that should be part of any community program for dealing with meth or other drug problems:

# Hope - making sure children have "something that pulls them into the future."

# Significant adults - parents, coaches, teachers, ministers or neighbors, anyone willing to take an active role in the lives of children.

# A "locus of control" - giving youths the power to make their own decisions, to have some control over their lives.

# Skills - encouraging children to find something they're good at, something that can exercise their talents and increase their self-confidence.

# Altruism - providing opportunities for children to give something back to their communities.

Above all, Copple said at the end of his presentation, there has to be an emphasis on prevention of drug use and treatment for meth users. Every dollar spent on prevention equates to $8 saved on enforcement and $9 saved on treatment, he said.

But once people are addicted to meth, treatment is the only option that makes sense, Copple said. He left his audience with two related statistics: There are now 2.4 million youths who can't get into a treatment program because they are too expensive or unavailable; and this year 570,000 people will be coming out of prisons across the country.

Seventy percent of them will leave prison with substance abuse problems.


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