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Article Summary

Trends in Meth Use

The threat posed to the United States by the trafficking and abuse of methamphetamine is high and increasing. Methamphetamine availability, production, and distribution are increasing nationally; however, national-level data do not indicate a clear trend--either increasing or decreasing--with respect to rates of methamphetamine use. Nevertheless, demand for the drug is relatively high. In fact, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 2003 data indicate that more than 1.3 million persons aged 12 or older used methamphetamine within the past year in 2003.

Meth Trafficking Increasing

According to state and local law enforcement agencies, the threat associated with methamphetamine trafficking and abuse has increased sharply since 2002 and now exceeds that of any other drug. NDIC National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) data show that the percentage of state and local law enforcement agencies that identified methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat in their areas has increased from 31.0 percent in 2002, to 36.2 percent in 2003, and 39.6 percent in 2004. NDTS 2004 data further indicate that, for the first time, the percentage of state and local agencies that identified methamphetamine as their greatest drug threat (39.6%) surpassed that of cocaine (35.6%), including crack, and is much higher than marijuana (12.0%), heroin (8.6%), or MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) (0.6%).

According to state and local law enforcement agencies, methamphetamine-related criminal activity has increased concurrently with the rise in the overall threat posed by the trafficking and abuse of the drug. NDTS data show that the percentage of state and local law enforcement agencies that identified methamphetamine as the drug that most contributes to violent crime increased from 31.6 percent in 2003 to 34.2 percent in 2004. Similarly, the percentage of state and local law enforcement agencies that identified methamphetamine as the drug that most contributes to property crime increased from 29.8 percent to 32.7 percent during the same period.

Harm from Meth Labs Increasing

The attendant dangers occasioned by domestic methamphetamine production to individuals, property, and the environment contribute to the overall threat posed by the drug. Law enforcement personnel, first responders, clandestine laboratory operators, and those in proximity to laboratories, particularly children, often are injured as a result of chemical burns, fires, and explosions at clandestine laboratories. In fact, EPIC NCLSS data show that despite a decrease in the number of reported fires and explosions at methamphetamine laboratory sites (from 396 in 2002 to 361 in 2003), the number of reported law enforcement officers injured when responding to methamphetamine laboratories increased from 129 to 255 during the same period.

The environmental damage caused by improper storage and disposal of chemicals and chemical waste attendant to methamphetamine production is severe, and the cost of soil and structure remediation at contaminated methamphetamine production sites is significant. For example, the annual expenditure for domestic clandestine laboratory (predominantly methamphetamine laboratory) remediation by DEA has increased from $2 million in fiscal year (FY) 1995, to $12.2 million in FY1999, and $16.2 million in FY2003.

Child neglect and abuse are common within families whose parents or caregivers produce or use methamphetamine. According to the Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime, children who reside with methamphetamine users are more likely to experience neglect as well as physical, sexual, and mental abuse. Furthermore, children who are present in homes where methamphetamine laboratories also are present often sustain injuries, including skin lesions, chemical burns, and respiratory damage, due to drug or chemical exposure. For example, NCLSS 2003 data show that 66.0 percent (589 of 893) of the children reported present at seized methamphetamine laboratory sites subsequently tested positive for toxic levels of chemicals in their bodies.

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