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Meth program cuts blasted

WASHINGTON – Republicans on a key drug panel scolded the Bush administration Tuesday for proposing budget cuts in programs that combat methamphetamine.

“Stop cutting the budget for methamphetamine and back up the Congress,” Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., told Scott Burns, an official at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, at a hearing.

“Our frustration is building because meth is moving west to east, from rural to small cities to larger cities. When it hits it overwhelms us,” Souder said.

Souder is chairman of the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee of the Government Reform Committee.

Republican lawmakers also criticized the Bush administration for failing to develop a comprehensive plan to control meth.

“I don’t hear anything that looks like a plan,” warned Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.

Burns, who is deputy director of state and local affairs for the White House drug office, said, “I’ll deliver the message.”

Burns said he agrees the administration needs to develop a strategy to control meth but stopped short of calling methamphetamine an epidemic.

The nation’s 1.5 million meth addicts represent only about 8 percent of the nation’s 19 million drug users, according to federal estimates.

But meth is the fasting growing drug problem, is extremely addictive, and creates other problems such as abandoned children and hazardous wastes.

“More than any other controlled substance, methamphetamine trafficking endangers children through exposure to drug abuse, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, fire and explosions,” Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy chief of the office of enforcement operations in the Drug Enforcement Administration, told the panel.

Yet nobody really knows exactly how many children are endangered by meth.

“I cannot point to any study that accurately quantifies the number of children in America endangered by parental drug trafficking,” said Laura Birkmeyer, chair of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children.

Federal statistics estimate labs affected 3,357 children last year. Experts agree the figure is low.

The Bush administration has proposed eliminating funding for some meth programs and slashing funds for others.

The president wants to eliminate a $634 million grant program for state and local police departments used to bolster anti-drug task forces and cut anti-drug spending in High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas from $226 million to $100 million.

He also would reduce spending on a Justice Department methamphetamine initiative from $52.6 million to $20 million, a 60 percent cut.

Meanwhile, Congress is attempting to restore the proposed cutbacks.

“You can give leadership or have the Congress micromanage it,” Souder said.

A July 5 survey of law enforcement agencies in 45 states identified meth as a bigger problem than cocaine, marijuana or heroin.

Meth lab seizures have doubled across the country in the last five years, from 7,438 to 15,994, according to the National Drug Control Policy and Drug Enforcement Administration.

“This is the most out-of-control narcotic I’ve seen since I’ve been in Congress, ” Mica said. “The problem is in everybody’s back yard. It’s our worst nightmare because the ingredients can be cheaply purchased and the recipe (for making it) is on the Internet.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. called the meth problem “dire.” She said the Bush administration “should stop having summits and do more work on the issue.”