Officials address Meth issue

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The continuing problem of illegal methamphetamines in Alabama has prompted officials on both state and county levels to take new actions against people who make and distribute the volatile drug.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King was motivated to act on the state’s meth problem after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency released a study in February with some alarming statistics.

In the study, the DEA named methamphetamine as the No. 1 most dangerous drug for the state of Alabama.

&uot;Although marijuana continues to be the number one drug of choice, methamphetamine has surpassed cocaine in abuse across the state,&uot; the study reads.

Since 2000, the report said methamphetamine lab seizures in the state have increased from 83 per year to an alarming 296 in 2004. Drug violations involving methamphetamines have jumped from 202 in 2000 to 540 in 2004.

In response to the report, Attorney General King vowed to increase the pressure on meth distributors and makers.

&uot;Methamphetamines are a plague that is spreading across our state,&uot; King said. &uot;No community, large or small, is safe from them or the destruction they bring with them.&uot;

The attorney general announced in April that he was creating a Methamphetamine Task Force that was to be made up of law enforcement officers and officials from all over the state.

&uot;I want this force to join the search for ways to slow and reverse the proliferation of methamphetamines,&uot; he said in a press conference last April.

King also hoped the force would be able to identify additional tools needed in the battle against the drug and devise uniform protocols statewide for the handling of methamphetamine labs.

To carry out the work of the new task force, the attorney general named officials from almost every county in the state, including Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry, who has been a major proponent of drug enforcement in the county.

Curry was appointed to a sub-committee of the task force, which focuses on the law-enforcement side of Alabama’s drug problem. The committee met for the first time two weeks ago, Curry said, and began working to establish recommendations for the attorney general of what law enforcement agencies need to combat drugs such as methamphetamine.

&uot;We identified a number of major areas that we could use help in,&uot; he said. &uot;These included things such as drug education programs, cleanup of drug labs and environmental issues.&uot;

Even before King’s vow to take increased action against meth, however, Curry had created the Shelby County Drug Task Force in 2004. The force brought together law enforcement officers from the sheriff’s office and the Alabaster and Montevallo police departments to combat not only meth but all forms of illegal drugs.

&uot;Creating the task force was necessary because drug traffickers don’t know city limits or boundaries,&uot; Curry said. &uot;The task force helps law enforcement agencies across the county share intelligence, manpower and resources to combat the drug problem.&uot;

Methamphetamine-related crimes have been a continuous problem in the county, Sheriff’s Department Capt. Ken Burchfield, a member of the DTF, said.

&uot;In 2004, the task force obtained 39 warrants as a result of use of, possession of, distribution of and manufacture of methamphetamine,&uot; Burchfield said.

He said 30 of the warrants were for possession of meth, six were for the manufacture of the drug and three were for the distribution of the drug.

&uot;The task force has been very effective,&uot; Curry said. &uot;In (the DTF’s) first year-and-a-half, they’ve solved a lot of cases and made a lot of arrests. It’s a central idea for having a unified attack across the county on all types of drugs.&uot;

Curry said he believes the main problem in Shelby County is not the actual meth laboratories but trafficking and use of the drug.

&uot;Historically, Shelby County has been a primary spot for the use and distribution of the drug,&uot; he said.

Curry went on to say

the decrease in actual meth labs in the county has come from a movement in the drug trade toward importing the dangerous substance from areas such as Mexico and California.

&uot;We’re seeing much for of the drug being imported,&uot; he said. &uot;People are looking for imported drugs because (they are) considered a better quality product.&uot;

But Curry is quick to note the decrease of meth labs in the county does not mean the distribution and use of the drug has lessened.

&uot;We have a drug issue in the county,&uot; he said. &uot;It is different from area to area on what kind of drugs we are dealing with, but all of them are a serious threat.

&uot;Overall, meth is definitely one of the major drug problems in Shelby County.&uot;

Curry’s sub-committee will reconvene in a few weeks to prepare a presentation for Attorney General King. Following, the committee’s recommendations, the attorney general will decide what programs and actions need to be implemented