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AG Cooper announces plan to battle meth epidemic

Release date: 1/27/2004

Raleigh: Attorney General Roy Cooper today unveiled a plan to stop the spread of drug labs that manufacture dangerous methamphetamine in North Carolina.

“Criminals who make meth pollute the water and ground, poison the mind and body, and worse yet, ruin the health and lives of young children,” said Cooper. “In just the last four years, these secret drug labs have exploded across our state.”

Law enforcement officers joined Cooper to release a preliminary report that includes findings and recommendations for combating the growing problem of meth labs. The report is the result of committees of experts first convened by Cooper at the North Carolina Methamphetamine Summit in Winston-Salem in October 2003 to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight the trend.

In 1999, the first year that meth labs were reported in North Carolina, State Bureau of Investigation agents investigated 9 labs. That number has skyrocketed, with agents shutting down 177 labs in 2003. Agents expect to discover even more meth labs across the state in 2004.

According to the preliminary report, North Carolina has made progress in fighting the meth epidemic but must do more. The report recommends tougher penalties for criminals who manufacture meth, as well as laws that target the possession of precursor ingredients needed to make meth and that hold meth pushers responsible if their drugs lead to overdose deaths. Cooper is already working with the North Carolina Sentencing Commission to develop ideas for toughening penalties against meth in time for the upcoming legislative session.

North Carolina must also address the problem of children living in meth labs, the report says. In 2003, children were found in one-fourth of meth labs busted. The report recommends making it a crime to expose children to meth labs, which can endanger children due to the risks of explosion, fire and toxic chemicals.

Additional report recommendations include: better training and equipment for first responders; help for social service agencies that care for children found in meth labs; development of a medical protocol for health care workers who treat patients exposed to meth labs; and guidelines for cleaning up homes that are contaminated by meth.

The report also points to a need for a public awareness effort so that all citizens can learn to identify and report dangerous meth labs in their community. The report recommends videos, brochures and a website to educate the public with specialized training for people who are most likely to come in contact with meth labs. For example, landlords and hotel and motel workers should be trained to recognize the tell-tale signs of a lab and garbage collectors need training to spot the kinds of waste generated by cooking meth, such as empty blister packs of decongestant or the smell of ammonia. Local prosecutors also need to be educated about meth and how to try meth-related cases, the report says.

To cut down on the easy availability of key meth ingredients, the report suggests work with retail merchants in North Carolina to develop a program to monitor and limit sales of precursors such as such as over-the-counter cold medications. For example, employees and managers could be trained to curb the amount of these medicines sold to a single customer or kept out on shelves, and stores could place precursors behind the counter or notify shoppers that aisles where these products are sold are kept under video surveillance.

Financial assistance for the Summit that lead to today’s report was provided by Governor’s Crime Commission, the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, the North Carolina Narcotic Enforcement Officers’ Association, and Wake Forest University, site of the initial conference.

“The meth epidemic poses a whole new set of challenges and dangers for law enforcement, first responders, prosecutors, public health officials, and child welfare agencies,” said Cooper. “We must attack this problem now.”