Bad Medicine

Locking up cold medicine makes the politicians feel good -- but it won't put a dent in Arizona's meth habit

"We'd like to come up with a database," he says. "But it's not going to be easy."


Even while Arizona lawmakers work feverishly to stop the state's few remaining meth labs, the state's meth use problem festers.

Attorney General Terry Goddard
Attorney General Terry Goddard
State Senator Barbara Leff
State Senator Barbara Leff

Unlike the lab issue, it's not easy to get sound bites about the direness of this situation. In some cases, it's impossible even to get a returned phone call.

Instead, on the questions of prevention, key state agencies seem to have dropped the ball.

The one part of O'Halleran's bill that might have had a big impact -- funding a major meth prevention initiative, targeted at kids ages 6 to 16 -- is the one piece that's been virtually forgotten today.

Leff's bill asked the state to identify successful meth prevention programs in other states and try to implement them here. It also called for the state to solicit donations to take on the issue of meth prevention and distribute them to worthy nonprofit companies.

But even though Governor Napolitano signed the bill into law, she doesn't appear to have put anyone on the case. Her spokeswoman knew nothing about any effort to identify such programs or fund them.

The state health department's Office of Tobacco Education and Prevention Program ran a highly successful anti-tobacco campaign in the mid- to late '90s. It achieved a 24 percent drop in the number of kids smoking.

But the health department hasn't attempted a similar campaign on meth use. "That's a law enforcement issue," says spokesman Mike Murphy.

The governor's substance abuse division, too, has hardly been active: It hasn't updated its "events calendar" in more than a year.

Despite repeated requests over a three-week period, Napolitano's substance abuse division director, Rob Evans, declined an interview to discuss what his staff is doing about meth.

It may be because they're just not doing all that much.

Indeed, even though arrest statistics show that meth has been a serious problem in Arizona for at least eight years, the state has yet to even accurately assess the problem. Lawmakers have been content to trot out the same sound bites instead of taking the time to figure out what's really going on.

Take, for example, the oft-repeated claim that Arizona leads the nation in meth use for kids ages 12 to 17.

That's a number that Attorney General Goddard consistently uses in presentations and promotional material, attributing it to U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona. The Arizona Republic has repeated it no less than five times.

The problem? It's totally bogus.

Goddard's spokeswoman, Andrea Esquer, says the source of the claim is a speech that Carmona made in Tucson last March.

But Carmona's planned remarks for the event show what he actually said: Arizona youth are tops when it comes to all stimulant use -- which includes meth, yes, but also cocaine. The Tucson Citizen, which covered the event, quotes Carmona stating just that.

As it turns out, the study Carmona was citing measures stimulant use as a whole, says Leah Young, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. It doesn't have a breakdown for meth.

It's a small example, but indicative of the bigger issue: No one in Arizona has bothered to quantify what the state's problem is.

That makes it hard to tell which plans are working, much less find a big-picture solution.

Take, for instance, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's pilot project for meth and Ecstasy health education.

Phoenix was one of two cities chosen for the project, which uses pediatricians to get information about the dangers of meth to teenagers. (The other city was St. Louis.)

The Partnership found amazing results for Ecstasy, says Arizona program director Shelly Mowrey. "From 2002 to 2004, Ecstasy use went down 56 percent among high school students," she says. "We were just jumping up and down."

The meth initiative didn't cause a similar reaction. The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission Youth Use Survey, an exhaustive study of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, doesn't ask about crystal meth directly -- only the more generic "stimulants."

The 2004 survey shows that stimulant use is actually up from 2002, from 2.2 percent to 3 percent of high school seniors.

But because "stimulant" is the category in question, it's not clear what that means. Are more kids trying meth? Do kids even know that meth is, technically, a stimulant?

"The numbers on meth are kind of sketchy," Mowrey admits.

The Partnership talked to the survey leaders and asked them to break out meth as a topic for questioning in the future, Mowrey says. They've agreed.

But even with that change, 2006 will be the earliest data available. It won't be until 2008 that researchers will be able to tell if use is rising or falling.

By then, Arizona's meth crisis will be in its 10th year.


As of this week, the result of Arizona's fight against meth should be on display at drugstores and grocers across Phoenix.

The shelves that once held hundreds of name-brand decongestants, with endless varieties of day or night, cold and/or flu, children's versus extra strength, are basically down to one option: Sudafed PE.

Sudafed PE is Pfizer's tweaker-proof decongestant. It's pseudoephedrine-free -- the first product to hit the market that proudly proclaims it doesn't contain the key ingredient in crystal meth. (Instead, it uses an ingredient called phenylephrine, which is where the "PE" comes from.)

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2 comments
jay
jay

I am currently writing a story about my brothers meth addiction in Arizona, currently he is in a mental institution as he is convinced people are trying black mail him for murder and money, they have all these micro devices around him tracking his every move, they can threaten him through this devices if he does not do what they tell him, there is plenty more, but my main issue is that alot of the in Arizona comes from the Indian Reservations and law enforcement can not do a thing and the goverment will not help, this is simply crazy, those reservations should be raided once its proved the meth has come from it, 1/2 the goverment must be on the stuff because CRYSTAL METH IS MORE OF THREAT TO THIS COUNTRY THEN TERRORISM,

jay
jay

I am currently writing a story about my brothers meth addiction in Arizona, currently he is in a mental institution as he is convinced people are trying black mail him for murder and money, they have all these micro devices around him tracking his every move, they can threaten him through this devices if he does not do what they tell him, there is plenty more, but my main issue is that alot of the in Arizona comes from the Indian Reservations and law enforcement can not do a thing and the goverment will not help, this is simply crazy, those reservations should be raided once its proved the meth has come from it, 1/2 the goverment must be on the stuff because CRYSTAL METH IS MORE OF THTREAT TO THIS COUNTRY THEN TERRORISM,

 
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