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Methamphetamine remains number one drug problem
according to new survey of the nation’s counties

Meth related crimes continue to grow; epidemic moving west to east     

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – County law enforcement officials across 44 states reported that methamphetamine remains the number one drug problem in their county, according to a new survey released today by the National Association of Counties (NACo).    

In addition, the survey of 500 county law enforcement officials found that while meth lab seizures are down significantly – due largely to new precursor laws – crimes related to meth continue to grow; that meth has increased the workload of public safety officials; that meth use remains popular in western states and is spreading east across America; that the majority of meth currently being abused is imported from out-of-state locations; and that meth related arrests continue to represent a high proportion of crimes that require incarceration.    

The survey, “The Methamphetamine Epidemic:  The Criminal Effect of Meth on Communities,” was conducted by NACo to determine the effect of methamphetamine abuse on counties and their residents and to raise public awareness of the meth epidemic.

“The abuse of this highly addictive brain-altering drug continues to destroy lives and strain essential county services across America,” said NACo President Bill Hansell, commissioner, Umatilla County, Ore.   “NACo has taken a leadership role in fighting meth abuse and conducts these surveys because counties are on the front lines in responding to the methamphetamine epidemic.  Meth abuse causes remarkable financial, legal, medical, environmental, and social problems for counties.”

The NACo survey found that:

  • Meth continues to be the number one drug problem.More counties (48 percent) reported that meth is the primary drug problem – more than cocaine (22 percent), marijuana (22 percent) and heroin (3 percent) combined.
  • Crimes related to meth continue to grow.Fifty-five percent of law enforcement officials reported an increase in robberies or burglaries in the last year, 48 percent reported an increase in domestic violence and 41 percent reported an increase in simple assaults.Thirty-one percent reported an increase in identity theft crime, which is up from the 27 percent reported in the July 2005 law enforcement survey. 
  • Legislation that restricts the sale of precursors works.   Ninety percent of counties have some kind of precursor legislation in effect.  Forty-six percent reported that the number of meth lab busts is down because of precursor legislation in their jurisdictions.
  • Meth has increased the workload of public safety staff.
    Sixty-three percent of counties reported an increased workload in the last year and 73 percent reported that they are playing more overtime.
  • Meth use remains popular in the west and is spreading east.
    In Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, 100 percent reported that meth is the number one drug. However, this information was followed by Oklahoma with 88 percent reporting meth is number one, Iowa at 79 percent, Louisiana at 75 percent, Nebraska at 74 percent and Oregon at 71 percent. This information correlates with the national trend that meth is a drug that is largely popular in western rural areas and is spreading across the country from west to east.   In Georgia 63 percent reported that meth is number one.  In North Carolina 44 percent reported that meth is number one, and in Alabama 43 percent reported that meth is number one.   This information verifies law enforcement trends that meth is growing dramatically in the Southeastern region of the country.
  • The majority of meth currently being abused is from outside of the state.
    Eighty-five percent reported out-of-state importation and 71 percent reported importation from Mexico.
  • Meth related arrests continue to represent a high proportion of crimes that require incarceration.
    Forty-eight percent of the counties reported that up to one in five inmates are incarcerated because of meth related crimes.  Seventeen percent reported that one in two inmates are incarcerated because of meth related crimes.

The new survey is the fifth released in 12 months by NACo, the only national organization that represents county governments.  In July 2005, NACo released two surveys on the impact of meth abuse on counties.   Key findings indicated that meth was the top drug threat to county law enforcement officials and that meth was responsible for an increase in out-of-home placements for children.  In January 2006, NACo released two additional surveys that found that meth was the largest drug that drove people to county public hospital emergency rooms and that the need for meth treatment was growing.

“The primary objective of our effort is to promote action by the Administration and Congress to control and reduce the production, distribution and abuse of meth, including assistance to counties in responding to the problem locally,” Hansell said.  “We need a comprehensive strategy that will deal with all aspects of the meth problem.” 

NACo retained the services of Research, Inc. of Washington, D.C. to conduct the telephone survey.  All survey responses were collected in June.   The full survey is available at www.naco.org.