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Report shows decline in meth use, labs

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A new report published this week by the Minnesota Department of Health documents significant reductions in the number of methamphetamine (meth) labs and meth users in Minnesota over the past few years.

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The report, "Methamphetamine in Minnesota: a report on the impact of one illicit drug," is the first comprehensive review of the impact of meth in Minnesota.

The report describes historical trends and economic costs of meth use; outcomes of the 2005 anti-meth law; and the range of national, state and local efforts aimed at combating meth. It also provides recommendations for further strengthening efforts to reduce the use of meth and other drugs.

"Methamphetamine has taken a huge toll on Minnesota," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Sanne Magnan. "Lives have been lost or damaged forever, the judicial system has been overburdened with meth cases, homes and neighborhoods have been damaged by meth labs, and communities have experienced a rise in crimes that often accompany meth use. This report sheds new light on the progress we've made in reducing meth use as well as the steps we need to take to prevent a resurgence of the drug."

The report's key findings include:

• Between 2003 and 2007, the number of reported meth labs decreased by 92 percent. The number of reported meth labs in Minnesota peaked in 2003, at nearly 500.

• Drug arrests in the category that includes meth peaked in 2005 at 4,790, and declined 19 percent from 2005 to 2006. There have been more than 20,000 arrests for felony meth offenses in Minnesota since 2001.

• On Jan. 1, 2006, there were 1,138 meth offenders in Minnesota state prisons. This number declined 15 percent between 2006 and 2008, to 969 meth offenders on Jan. 1, 2008.

• Between 2004 and 2007, more than 3,000 residents of the Twin Cities area went to a hospital emergency department because of ill effects of meth.

• At least 35,000 individuals have entered treatment for meth use and addiction in Minnesota since 2000. Between 2005 and 2007, admissions for meth-related chemical dependency treatment decreased by 34 percent.

• Since 2001, physicians reported that more than 1,000 Minnesota mothers used meth during pregnancy, endangering themselves and their children. Reported prenatal use of meth decreased 34 percent between 2005 and 2007.

• The Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimated that the statewide public costs associated with methamphetamine abuse in 2004 exceeded $120 million. Although not an actual tally, extrapolating from that estimate suggests that the real public costs of meth in Minnesota since the late 1990s may have reached $500 - $750 million dollars and are probably be much higher.

Significant meth use and meth manufacturing took hold in Minnesota beginning in the mid- to late-1990s. The problem intensified through 2005, the year Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature enacted comprehensive anti-meth legislation. The legislation contained tight restrictions on the sale of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine. This is credited with the dramatic reductions in meth labs.

"The significant change in our policies and procedures for handling medicines that can be converted to methamphetamine has done more to rid our communities of meth labs than any other single provision in law," said Chuck Noerenberg, director of the Office of State Drug Policy and the state's meth coordinator. "Buying cold medicine is a little less convenient, but this action by lawmakers is credited for the dramatic reductions in meth labs."

The legislation also included notice and clean-up requirements for properties that contained a meth lab. This has helped protect residents and home buyers from living in former meth labs where dangerous chemicals have been used.

In addition, the legislation provided ongoing funding for 10 Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents dedicated to combating meth and related criminal activity. These agents are dispersed throughout the state to work with law enforcement on meth interdiction and enforcement. The 2005 legislation remains one of the strongest packages of state laws in the nation to deal with methamphetamine.

"We have made significant progress toward reducing the scourge of meth in Minnesota," Noerenberg said. "Like any addictive drug, however, we know that it can re-emerge at any time if we don't remain vigilant and keep improving our efforts."

The report offers a number of recommendations for further strengthening the state's fight against meth and other drugs:

• Develop best practices for school and community education and prevention efforts.

• Develop a cost-effective system of electronic monitoring of pseudoephedrine purchases.

• Strengthen protection from toxic meth lab homes.

• Expand court-supervised drug offender treatment by developing more drug courts.

• Continue to expand accessibility to effective addiction treatment resources.

Carol Falkowski, Chemical Health Division director for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, attributed the decline in meth labs and meth use to enormous public response to the drug during the early 2000s. "Communities all over the state mobilized and educated themselves about the scourge of meth abuse and addiction," Falkowski said. "The public response, combined with restricted sale of cold products and ongoing pressure from law enforcement, has resulted in these downward trends. This is excellent news."

Meth is a very strong stimulant drug that causes the release of high levels of dopamine and other chemicals in the brain. Meth comes in various forms, but is commonly a white odorless powder. It is often most potent in its crystallized form, referred to as crystal meth or "ice." When meth is smoked or ingested, it produces an intense rush of pleasurable feelings, increased energy, decreased appetite, and often an increase in sexual libido. This compelling physiological reaction can easily lead to continued use and potential addiction.

Longer-term effects of meth use can include severe weight loss, diminished memory, mood disturbances and psychosis, extreme tooth decay, aggressive and violent behavior, and irreversible damage to certain brain functions. Meth abuse and addiction often lead to criminal behavior, such as theft and burglary to provide cash to buy the drug, as well as violent crimes such as physical and sexual assault.

Methamphetamine is made by chemically extracting and converting the common decongestant pseudoephedrine. This manufacturing or "cooking" process uses various toxic chemicals to extract and convert the pseudoephedrine to meth. Meth labs produce a variety of by-products that are hazardous to human health and the environment. The clean-up and remediation of meth labs has cost Minnesotans millions of dollars.

The report, Methamphetamine in Minnesota: a report on the impact of one illicit drug, was prepared with assistance from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Minnesota Department of Corrections, Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The complete report can be viewed at: www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpcd/drug/index.html.

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