Roy Cooper is attorney general for the state of North Carolina.
North Carolina's bold strategy to combat methamphetamine manufacturers is working. As homemade recipes for meth swept across the country from west to east, North Carolina moved to require jail time for manufacturers and became the first state on the East Coast to restrict criminals' access to its ingredients.
Our quick response was needed because the threat was imminent. Between 2001 and 2004, busts of secret meth labs in North Carolina homes, hotel rooms and cars jumped from 34 to 322. At the same time, reports of children poisoned from chemicals and public safety officials injured from lab explosions increased.
Since the new restrictions took effect a year ago, we have seen a 40 percent reduction in meth lab busts. But we still have a battle. A meth addict is uniquely addicted, and the demand is being filled by traffickers who bring in the drug from elsewhere.
Meth is a problem for all of us because chronic use can lead to irrational, violent behavior as well as to neglect and abuse of the user's children and family.
The stories of children endangered by meth are heartbreaking. One young boy described helping care for his 4-year-old sister, including fixing her cereal for breakfast and bologna sandwiches for lunch, while his parents were high on meth. A 5-year-old said his meth-addicted father sometimes let him shoot at people who were "bothering" his dad. A 2-year-old wound up at a hospital with a caustic chemical burn on his lips and tongue.
These children need help overcoming health and emotional problems. Not only do they face risks from living near meth labs, they are also more likely to become drug dependent themselves.
While our progress against illegal labs is encouraging, meth trafficked into North Carolina from surrounding states and Mexico is a growing concern. Experts at our State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration know that "super-labs," those making 10 pounds of meth or more in a single run, are moving in when home-cooked drugs move out.
We've formed a special unit at the SBI targeted at drug trafficking and related crime. A statewide coordinator works with federal and local officers to identify problem drug dealers and to establish task forces within communities. Our SBI is also developing a database to track traffickers, and we're asking the legislature for more SBI drug agents.
We must enlist communities, both to identify the traffickers and to learn the signs that a friend or relative is using meth. We're developing a guide that will detail the warning signs. We're also working with local law enforcement to ensure that retailers are restricting the purchase of meth ingredients.
The toxic danger of meth labs and trafficking has strained law enforcement, which must contain the dangerous sites, arrest the makers and dealers, and then analyze the evidence to prosecute the case. We are asking the General Assembly to let us open a new crime lab in the Piedmont Triad next year to provide quicker analysis of drug evidence.
Finally, we must take a frank look at how to get users off meth. Experts call it one of the most quickly and thoroughly addicting drugs ever. Its users try it for a quick rush, an appetite suppressant, a boost of energy. Repeated use leaves them brain damaged and addled.
North Carolina has a comprehensive law enforcement strategy but lacks a thorough drug abuse recovery system that will get addicts off drugs, and away from violence, for good. Both are critical to winning this battle.