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Congress urges a more vigorous US effort to fight meth trafficking

Lawmakers in both parties see Bush strategy as lagging localities' attack on the drug.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 2005

Feeling pressure from their grass roots, lawmakers in Congress are pushing the Bush administration to do more about the nation's fastest-growing drug problem: methamphetamine.

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Legislation already on the fast track focuses on punishment for meth makers and dealers, ways to stem the flow of the drug into the United States from Mexico and other countries, and stricter controls on cold remedies and other medicines containing chemicals used to make meth.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats alike are outspoken about what they see as the administration's slow response.

"I don't believe the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has gotten the message that a more comprehensive, coordinated effort is needed," says Rep. Mark Souder (R) of Indiana, chairman of the House drug policy subcommittee. That's one of Mr. Souder's gentler criticisms. He has also suggested that White House "drug czar" John Walters might have to step down, and he called "laughable" some of the White House data on meth labs and users.

Among other things, lawmakers criticize the administration's decision to end the $804 million Justice Assistance Program, which funds regional drug task forces. "We want a federal ... strategy to attack meth that is equal to the urgency and action that's taking place in so many communities around the United States," says Rep. Rick Larsen (D) of Washington, co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus to Fight and Control Methamphetamine. "Congress is not convinced that that is happening."

Law-enforcement agencies have shut down small meth labs nationwide. But the number of busted labs - 9,797 seized last year by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) compared with 162 in 1995 - also indicates that the problem is growing. Moreover, the US crackdown is being undermined, officials say, by Mexican "super labs" able to produce at least 10 pounds of meth in 24 hours. Two-thirds of the meth used in the US today comes from Mexico.

A recent report by The Oregonian newspaper in Portland found that Mexico has been importing far more of the precursor chemicals used to make meth than would reasonably be used to manufacture medicines. Through theft or corruption, much of those chemicals end up in cartel-run meth labs. On the street, the purity of the drug is increasing, law-enforcement officials report.

The problem isn't just Mexico. China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates produce large amounts of the chemicals - mainly ephedrine and pseudoephedrine - used to make meth, according to the DEA national drug threat assessment for 2005. The chemicals then are shipped to Mexico.

Mexican meth production and meth smuggling from Mexico (largely through Arizona) "have increased sharply" in the past few years, the DEA reports.