Fight a growing evil

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 19, 2002

What began as a trickle threatens to become a flood. In 1998, less than 40 methamphetamine labs were discovered and destroyed in Alabama. In 2001, that number grew tremendously - and continues to grow in 2002.

Like most so-called "recreational" drugs, meth leaves behind a wake of destruction that affects all of society, not just those who choose t abuse their own bodies.

Meth, created during WWII as a Nazi attempt to create some kind of "super soldier" through chemicals, found its way to the south from California, via biker gangs, who set up the first lab in Middle Tennessee. Like a spider web, the network has grown, with each user-abuser-manufacturer spreading the poison in an ever-widening circle.

It has been said those who use meth can expect to die within seven years. If they cook it - five. And in those five to seven years, they leave more victims than themselves. We have seen police alerted to meth labs by seeing the drug makers' children - often grossly malnourished because the parents, on meth, don't eat and forget that their children need to. We have seen previously honorable employees "borrowing" money from the till to buy supplies for the next batch. We have seen the scars on their arms from shooting up and the scars on their face, where the drug causes them to scratch and pick. We have seen the highly volatile labs set up in hotels, where an explosion could threaten the lives of all those staying there, not just the meth users.

We have seen one man convicted of meth production who had lost his short term memory to drug abuse so that he had to tattoo his Social Security number on his calf - and yet, every evening, he mixed together a dangerous and lethal chemical concoction.

We have seen the bodies slumped over, asphyxiated by toxic gases released in the process, and we have seen bodies charred by fireballs from the exploding labs.

There are financial considerations as well as social and medical. The cost of cleaning up a house that has been used as a meth lab is often so prohibitive that the owner finds it cheaper to tear the house down and rebuild. Drug task forces are growing each year and still remain understaffed, and the jails are crowded beyond capacity, with the majority of those inside being convicted on drug-related charges. Children, innocent bystanders, and taxpayers all pay in the long run.

So what can we do? Aggressive education and eradication. We cannot be too squeamish to show our children what those scarred, burned and abused bodies look like. Our police must continue their search and destroy mission, and they must continue - if not increase – their presence - in schools, in neighborhoods, in our lives. In McMinnville, Tennessee, a town so riddled with meth labs that the law enforcement officers refer to it as McMethville, the local judge runs the photo of every convicted meth producer on the front page of the local newspaper holding a placard detailing their crimes. It is a modern version of the stocks, but only time will tell if it is effective. His tactic, however, exemplifies what is truly needed in the battle to fight drugs - a unified front, the schools, the courts, the media, the police, and every citizen working together to stop the growth of evil.