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Confronting Threat of Crystal Meth

Citizens and law enforcement work to promote awareness of destructive drug.

In the dimly lit and sparsely furnished apartment, jars filled with chemicals connected to each other with hoses bubble and steam as a middle-aged woman inspects them slowly. The scene in the commercial is a meth lab.

As a narrator describes the chemicals that Jamie is inhaling and what harm is coming to her body, the camera pulls up to show another apartment, this one with a young girl playing with toys. The young girl is Jamie.

The commercial warning of the health consequences associated not just with the use, but the presence and production of the illegal narcotic crystal methamphetamines are being aired by the Partnership for a Drug-free America, as local officials and community volunteers ramp up efforts to stop the further proliferation of the drug and its dangerous production laboratories.

“This can cause serious problems for communities. We do not want this drug anywhere in the state,” said Sgt. James Cox, a narcotics investigator with the Fairfax County Police Department at a meeting last Thursday morning of the Tyson’s Corner Rotary Club. “We’ve been told for years and years that it’s coming and we just haven’t seen it yet … and we’re doing what we can now to see if we can stop it in its tracks.”

The presentation was sponsored by the group Meth 360, a coalition of law enforcement and community organizations organized with the objective of increasing awareness about the drug and stopping its spread.

CRYSTAL METH, which can be produced in makeshift laboratories from household items like anti-freeze, iodine and nasal decongestants, is a crystallized narcotic used as a stimulant. The highly addictive substance can be snorted, ingested, smoked or injected by users looking to get a high.

Aside from being a dangerous and illegal drug that causes massive dependence and deteriorates the body, crystal meth’s production and ultimate effects on its users make the substance a direct and immediate threat to community health, said Tricia Bassing, a prevention specialist with the City of Alexandria’s Community Service Board, who also spoke at the Rotary Club meeting.

To date, there have not been any methamphetamine laboratories discovered in Fairfax County, Cox said. Federal drug officials estimate that more than 12 million people in the country have tried crystal meth at one point, according to Partnership for a Drug-free America.

The State of Virginia has also taken measures to limit the presence of crystal meth production labs, including a measure signed in 2005 by former Gov. Mark Warner (D) to restrict access to materials used in the drug's production, according to information from the state's attorney general's office.

“The spread of crystal meth constitutes a danger for everyone in a community where a lab has been established,” Bassing said. Officials are keeping a close watch for the presence of meth labs, due to the fact that they are often found in single-family homes or apartment buildings, she added.

For every pound of crystal meth that is produced, about five to six pounds of toxic waste is created, according to Cox. Often meth lab owners dispose of the waste inappropriately, such as dumping it into a river, he added, increasing the risks for toxic poisoning and lung disease in those who do not use the drug.

“When we discover one of these meth labs, we’re talking about tens of thousands of tax dollars to clean this place up,” Cox said. “Once crystal meth has been produced somewhere, its residue gets everywhere.”

And there is also the danger of the laboratory exploding, as “cooks” of the drug are frequently working with highly volatile chemicals with little to no official training and even less regard for safety, Cox added. There is also the typical spike in crime that is seen when drug addicts desperately look for another fix.

“This is just like the drug crack was in the '80s,” Cox said. “You smoke it or you snort it, and you get high, but eventually that high wears off and you need more, and where do you think they get that money?”

IF THE SPREAD of the drug is to be halted before it reaches a critical mass, everyone in a community needs to take a hand in spreading awareness about the drug, speaking positively with young people and watching for the appropriate warning signs of the presence of crystal meth production laboratories, Bassing said.

The most important thing for parents to do, according to Bassing, is to speak with their children about the drug.

“It’s the job of adolescents to explore their world, so inherently every child is potentially at risk” for coming in contact with the drug, she said. “Parents need to take steps to sit down with their children and see if they want to talk about drugs and what to do if anybody offers them anything.”

Some studies have shown that children whose parents speak to them about the risks associated with drug use are up to a half as likely to use drugs as children whose parents do not talk about drugs, according to information from Partnership for a Drug-free America.

If enough people can know about the drug and its negative effects on not just users’ health and safety, but the health and safety of entire communities, the spread of the drug can be stopped in Northern Virginia, Bassing said.

“We’re focusing on this particular drug right now, because it has been growing nationwide and we have an opportunity to stop it right now in this area,” she said. “If we can make the proper efforts and get enough people talking about this, we won’t have to address the problem when it becomes more serious.”