Editorial: What value meth busts?

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

It was a surprise to read that an elected county official thinks that busting meth labs doesn't do much for the county.

While Holiday Island Justice of the Peace Marshall Turner stands by the report, which appeared last month in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as an accurate reflection of his position, he was speaking more from an economic standpoint, rather than a position of public safety.

We should certainly hope so.

While Holiday Island has a privileged reputation among Carroll County's communities, it is not immune from the methamphetamine scourge that continues to mushroom locally. A meth lab was raided at that community's motel, which certainly impacted the income of the motel operators when customers began checking out because of the noxious odor. Meth operations have also been uncovered on County Line Road and the so-called "Valley of the Planets" in that fair community.

In later comments, Turner did not go so far as saying meth lab raids were bad for the county, but he did express doubt that anything can stop it.

He could be right, but that is no reason not to try.

Meth is, in the view of most informed people, the worst drug to come down the pike. Drug addiction experts say that the strength and suddenness of the addiction is far more severe than that of cocaine, and perhaps more cunning, baffling and powerful than addiction to smoking or alcohol.

As with most addictions, meth becomes the center of the abuser's world ---- only more so. Everything revolves around using meth or doing whatever it takes to get meth. "Whatever it takes" includes prostitution, fraud, assault, burglary, hot checks, credit card theft and, even, in at least two county cases of recent years, capital murder. If methamphetamine did not exist in Carroll County, more than half of our criminal cases would disappear.

Families of meth addicts marvel at how quickly the lives of their loved ones deteriorated after they started using meth. We know of abusers who operated successful businesses, only to loose everything, including home, work, car and family, within a few weeks of starting to use the stuff.

Children exposed to meth labs operating in their homes are subject to severe liver damage, and, more likely than not, malnourishment, improper clothing, and neglect. That is not to mention the emotional love/hate trauma many develop toward their meth-abusing parents.

Parents of adult abusers have become saddled with raising grandchildren. In other cases, the unfortunate children are ripped from their families to become wards of the state.

The recovered meth addict is a rare animal. Usually only long-term controlled environments, such as incarceration, allow their minds to clear up enough to appreciate the problems the drug has caused them. Even then, most abusers return to the drug once they are free.

Meth addiction is a major drain on public resources, adding expense to child welfare and health care services, welfare, the legal system, and toxic waste clean-up.

That does not even include the danger that exists when a meth lab is set up in your neighborhood. The manufacturing process includes substances such as acetone, ammonia, any number of explosive acids, and phosphorus, just to name a few ingredients.

As for Turner, we would suggest that he not view Carroll County Newspaper group's reports of methamphetamine abuse as a sensational way to increase our circulation. Rather, he should take the information at face value. Meth is almost without question the most significant problem facing Carroll County's society ---- and that includes the county's budget problem.

The expense of the sheriff's focus on meth labs is not as great as some would have us believe.

Capt. David Slaton argued that the money spent busting meth labs is miniscule when compared to other budgeted law enforcement activities.

"A check for the actual costs of our meth lab seizures reflect that less than .05 percent, or less than one-half of 1 percent of our expenditures to date, have been spent on the labs," Slaton said.

Granted, county finances are severely strained. But to suggest that the sheriff focus on something other than meth is, in our view, irresponsible.

--EAL

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