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November 29, 2006
Editorial: It takes a team effort to fight the meth epidemic

Special to the Columbia Basin Herald
By Attorney General Rob McKenna

Methamphetamine is the most dangerous drug our state has ever confronted. Meth poisons our children, devastates our neighborhoods and scars our environment.

This week, we mark National Meth Awareness Day, a national wake-up call that should ring extra loud in our state, which faces one of the most severe meth problems in the country.

No one should treat meth as just the latest drug fad. It’s more addictive than heroin, relatively cheap, and readily available.  It destroys the lives of all it touches.

A recent case in Adams County illustrates the extreme danger that meth presents–especially in rural Eastern Washington.  An Othello man, who was pulled over for driving with a suspended license, assaulted two Adams County deputy sheriffs before fleeing to his home and sneaking out the side with a gun. Hiding in a drainage ditch near the home, he ambushed the deputies, shooting one in the chest and leg. Fortunately, a bullet-resistant vest saved his life. The defendant tested positive for meth and he was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to more than 27 years in prison.

Because of the complex nature of this case, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case and Adams County called on the Attorney General’s Office for assistance.

This is one example of how my office’s Operation: Allied Against Meth is working together with law enforcement and prosecutors in the fight against meth.  Shortly after taking office in 2005, I scrubbed our agency’s budget to fund two additional prosecutors to help counties prosecute complex and expensive meth cases.  We’ll be requesting an additional $1 million in funding from the Legislature this session to address the growing need for this assistance.

Knowing that the battle against meth must be fought on a large scale with many allies, another piece of our meth initiative involved convening the “Operation: Allied Against Meth” task force, which included police, prosecutors, elected officials, treatment providers, business representatives and community activists.

We developed a comprehensive set of recommendations and passed a new law that provides millions of dollars in new funding to local law enforcement and new rural drug task forces.

The law also emphasizes helping addicts overcome their addiction. New medications and new treatment protocols are being developed that may lead to higher recovery rates for meth addicts.

Finally, education and prevention are the most effective strategies of all. Only by convincing our kids that meth will ruin their lives will we ultimately end this scourge.

Since May of last year, my office has partnered with Lead On America, a community-based organization founded in Snohomish County to educate young people about the dangers of meth, and to help neighborhoods mobilize against meth in their midst. We have made joint presentations, reaching nearly 20,000 students from 30 high schools and middle schools throughout the state.  Early in November I delivered two such presentations to students in Moses Lake.

I am excited to know that our presentation inspired students, teachers, parents, the media and others in the Columbia Basin community to continue sharing the message. The Columbia Basin Herald’s Meth Education Program is a crucial part of our statewide effort to make sure every child hears and understand the dangers of meth.

As important as it is for us to keep children safe from meth, the battle isn’t won when they turn 18 or 21. National Meth Awareness Day should serve as a focal point for ongoing discussions with adult friends and family members.

There’s no easy way to call an assembly for adults, as we do for students in our schools. It will require a greater effort and more messengers. We all must play a part.

We can win the battle against meth. But only after we recognize the severity of the problem, and commit to working together to solve it.

That’s the real value of National Meth Awareness Day--to provide the wake-up call. For our communities’ sake, it’s a call we dare not ignore.

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Janelle Guthrie, AG Communication Director, (360) 586-0725
 Luke Esser, AG Outreach Director, (206) 389-2541

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