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Ice’ (meth) epidemic addressed in Congress

Congress last week completed work on the first-ever comprehensive bill that attacks the nation’s growing “ice” epidemic and has sent the measure to President George Bush for his signature.

“This bill is essential in our efforts to attack trafficking of crystal meth both in the United States and abroad by restricting the sale of cold medicines containing chemicals, like pseudoephedrine, that may be used to manufacture crystal meth,” said Congressman Ed Case, 2nd District, Hawaii, in a press release. “And the bill imposes tougher penalties on individuals who distribute and manufacture the drug.”

Case is a member of the Congressional Caucus to Fight and Control Methamphetamine, and was an original co-sponsor of the bill, entitled the “Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act.”

“This legislation is the result of hearings across the country by the House Drug Policy Subcommittee, chaired by Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana, who at my suggestion brought his subcommittee last year to the Big Island for a field hearing and to Maui for meetings on ‘ice,’” said Case in the release.

Souder said the legislation is the result of numerous hearings by his subcommittee and collaboration with members of the Congressional Meth Caucus.

 The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act includes provisions that will:

• Prohibit individuals from purchasing over 3.6 grams in a day or 9.0 grams in 30 days of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine products (precursor drugs)

• Require that precursor drugs be sold from behind the counter or kept in a locked cabinet

• Require that individuals show I.D. and sign a log book upon purchase of precursor drugs

• Impose quantity restrictions and reporting requirements on mail order, Internet, and “flea market” sales of precursor drugs

• Eliminate an existing loophole in federal law that allows unlimited sales of pseudoephedrine pills as long as they are sold in “blister packs”

• Toughen federal penalties for methamphetamine traffickers and smugglers as well as those who cook or deal methamphetamine in the presence of children 

• Require reporting of major meth precursor exporters and importers, and would hold them accountable for their efforts to prevent diversion to meth production

• Require information from importers on the “chain of custody” from foreign manufacturer to U.S. shores of precursor chemicals.

 However, Case said in the release, that more action is needed, noting that the House has also approved a bill (H.R. 798, the Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act of 2005) to help protect unsuspecting families who may move into homes previously used as meth labs. That bill is pending in a Senate committee.

“The increasing number of meth labs across our nation threatens unsuspecting families who move into residences where such labs were once located. Last year, the 30 meth labs seized in Hawai’i were among 17,000 home-based labs nationwide. This bill would protect those families from residual hidden toxins that may be left behind in such homes. The legislation initiates research to develop meth detection equipment and to study the effects of meth labs on residences which were used as labs,” Case said in the release.

Earlier this session, Congress also approved $2.6 billion in drug-related funding provided by two major appropriations bills which became law last November. Those funds included:

• $1.68 billion for the DEA, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

• $416.4 million for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program — a program that the House and Senate retained, despite an administration proposal to end it. The program is a partnership among federal, state, and local governments to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system, with emphasis on violent crime and serious offenders.

• $478.3 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services, also known as the COPS program, which is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide and supporting law enforcement agencies.

• $3 million for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a nonprofit coalition of communication, health, medical and educational professionals working to reduce illicit drug use through research-based educational campaigns. The organization launched a major crystal meth reduction program in fiscal year 2005.

• $335 million to other programs, such as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug-Free Communities Program, and the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.