Washington, DC— Senate Democrats held a press conference today to discuss the methamphetamine epidemic in rural America and Indian Country. They highlighted Democratic efforts to address this crisis and urged President Bush not to veto critical funding provided in the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill. The Senators were joined by Kevin Howlett, the Director for Tribal Health and Human Services of the Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana. He sees firsthand the devastating health effects of the meth epidemic in Indian Country. They were also joined by Steven Evans, the Sheriff of Bradford County, Pennsylvania. He is a member of the National Sheriffs’ Association’s Drug Enforcement Committee and a co-founder of CommUNITY Against Methamphetamine.
In an effort to bring attention to this critical issue, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) joined Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in introducing a resolution to designate November as National Methamphetamine Awareness Month. The Democratic Policy Committee also released a report to underscore key law enforcement programs crucial to combating meth. These programs have received increased funding under the Democratic Majority.
“Meth is a huge scourge in Montana and in many rural areas around our country,” Baucus said. “That’s why stamping out meth is one of my top priorities. I’m committed to getting it off our streets, out of communities and away from everyone who calls the Big Sky state home.”
“The meth problem in this country is real, and unfortunately it affects all aspects of our communities – even our children,” said Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) “We need to make fighting meth a national priority, and it is essential that we provide law enforcement officials with the resources and training they need to protect our families from this epidemic, particularly in rural America.”
“Meth is poisoning our communities and is especially rampant in the rural areas of America and my state of Colorado,” said Senator Ken Salazar (D-Colo.). “Meth usage is the number one challenge many of our law enforcement officers face and while we have made incremental progress in recent years, the war against meth is far from over. To prevail in this fight, we must ensure that our local law enforcement officials have the resources necessary to combat this scourge and I, along with my Democratic colleagues, am committed to fight at the federal level to make funding efforts to combat meth a top priority.”
Mr. Howlett commented, “This is not a law enforcement issue. This is not a health services issue. This is not a school issue. This is a community issue. The meth epidemic requires our concentrated and immediate effort to stop it.”
Sheriff Evans noted: “Meth is especially costing rural America in lives and dollars. With limited resources of manpower and funding, sheriffs in rural communities are doing the best they can to address this highly-addictive drug that is ravaging our communities. Relative isolation and quiet lifestyle in rural areas unfortunately allow meth to be manufactured without law enforcement interruption or suspicion. What’s more, healthcare services, such as treatment centers and drug courts, are not as readily available in rural communities compared to urban areas. From an enforcement perspective, we rely heavily on our partnership with the federal government to tackle the meth epidemic through vital programs like COPS Meth Hot Spots, Hiring and Byrne.”
According to a study by the National Association of Counties, forty-seven percent of county sheriffs report that meth is their number one drug problem and fifty-five percent report an increase in meth-related crimes. This problem is particularly evident in rural communities and among Native Americans, who experience the highest meth usage rate of any ethnic group in the nation. Senate Democrats are working to fund important meth prevention and enforcement programs.