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Washington gets tougher on meth

Associated Press

OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna said Monday that help is on the way for the state’s communities in fighting the production and sale of methamphetamine.

McKenna said that by June 1, he will hire two new assistant attorneys general to assist in local prosecution of meth crimes.

He also will create a statewide task force of local and state law enforcement officials to determine the best meth-prevention tools. The task force will help draft bills for next year’s legislative session.

He also is setting up a program to work with local community organizations and professional associations to educate and raise awareness of meth.

“State government needs to do more to assist local government in battling meth,” McKenna said. “Meth is the fastest-growing drug problem in Washington. … It’s a growing problem in every rural area in America.”

McKenna will announce the plan – called “Operation: Allied Against Meth” – at a news conference in Seattle this morning.

He will be joined by King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, Snohomish County Prosecutor Janice Ellis and U.S. Attorney John McKay, as well as Susan York, executive director and founder of Lead on America, a community-based anti-drug organization in Lynnwood.

On a scale of 1 to 10, York said, the state’s meth problem “is a 12.”

York, who created her organization after living across from a meth house in Snohomish County for three years, said McKenna’s plan shows that the state recognizes “the significance of this problem and the lives it destroys.”

York said she’d be traveling with McKenna around the state this week to take the anti-meth message to the schools.

“It’s not simply a matter of a drug house moving into a neighborhood,” she said.

“It’s affecting you in so many ways, including identity theft.”

McKenna said property crime and identity theft by meth users are a big problem in the state, offering “relatively low risk and high reward” for abusers.

Washington state ranks near the top of the country in the number of meth labs raided annually, even though last year the Department of Ecology reported a slight decline in the number of discovered labs.

The department received reports of 1,337 methamphetamine lab sites across the state last year, a 9.6 decrease from 2003 when 1,480 sites were reported.

The most reported drug labs were in Pierce, King, Snohomish and Thurston counties.

Meth is a highly addictive stimulant cooked from various chemicals. The chemicals are corrosive, carcinogenic and flammable, and they produce toxic gases.

McKenna said the ingredients for meth production are cheaply acquired, which is why he supported a bill passed by the Legislature this year that requires stores to keep nonprescription medications containing potential meth ingredients behind their counters.

The ingredients – pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanoline – are in cold and allergy medications.

The bill, which Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to sign, also requires stores to keep a record of who buys such products, to help law-enforcement agencies identify people buying the medications in large quantities.

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