Facing growing criticism that the federal government is not doing enough to combat methamphetamine use, the Justice Department yesterday announced the results of a week-long raid of drug suppliers and manufacturers and unveiled a Web site aimed at dissuading teenagers from taking up the drug.
Operation Wildfire, billed as the first nationally coordinated investigation to target methamphetamine, resulted in more than 400 arrests and the dismantling of 56 clandestine drug laboratories nationwide, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Police and drug agents found 30 children in the makeshift labs when they were raided, officials said.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy also announced the launch of Just Think Twice (www.justthinktwice.com), a teen-oriented Web site run by the DEA. The site features graphic pictures of drug users' rotting teeth, before-and-after pictures of methamphetamine users and other warnings about the perils of methamphetamine abuse. "Some say it's great, but it's really your worst nightmare," the Web site says.
Yesterday's news conference marked the second time this month that the Bush administration has sought to focus attention on the federal government's efforts to contain methamphetamine trafficking and use. Gonzales joined White House officials in Tennessee on Aug. 18 to announce the creation of another Web site, MethResources.gov, and a $16 million treatment program aimed at those who abuse the drug.
Tandy said yesterday that the latest methamphetamine arrests show the federal government's "commitment to extinguishing this plague."
"Meth has spread like wildfire across the United States," Tandy said. "It has burned out communities, scorched childhoods, and charred once happy and productive lives beyond recognition."
The announcements follow escalating demands from local and state officials for more federal help in targeting methamphetamine, a stimulant that is particularly prevalent in poorer and rural communities with few resources to combat it. Methamphetamine poses a significant safety threat to law enforcement officials, who often encounter dangerous home laboratories stocked with hazardous ingredients including battery acid and acetone.
Federal and local statistics indicate that the drug's popularity is moving east from its roots in the West and is more frequently being used in major cities from Seattle to Minneapolis to New York. A recent survey by the National Association of Counties found that almost 9 of every 10 counties had seen increases in meth-related arrests and that nearly 60 percent ranked methamphetamine as their biggest drug problem.
Joe Dunn, the group's associate legislative director, said there is "growing awareness" within the federal government that methamphetamine is a serious problem, but he said localities need more federal money and other assistance.
"National leadership is critically important to this," Dunn said. "Them coming together and acknowledging that this is a major drug problem is a good step forward. . . . But it's only a first step."
Many experts on drug abuse have faulted the Bush administration for its heavy focus on marijuana, which accounts for nearly half of all federal drug arrests nationwide. The administration is also in the midst of a debate with Congress over how aggressively to limit sales of over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in methamphetamine.
Gonzales said yesterday that federal investigators will continue to target methamphetamine with initiatives such as Operation Wildfire. More than 200 police departments were involved in the effort, authorities said.