Asa Hutchinson
Drug Enforcement Administration
Methamphetamine Summit
Bellevue, Washington
August 6, 2001


photo of Administrator Hutchinson
Asa Hutchinson

Thank you, Jennifer, and thank you ladies and gentlemen for that welcome. I’m delighted to be here. I want you to know that you have one of the best Congressional delegations in the entire Congress, and I’m honored to be on the same podium with Jennifer Dunn, Brian Baird, and Jim McDermott. What a great job they do.

And I must take my hat off to Senator Cantwell because, except for her vote and confirmation, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be here today.

I think that this summit will really be a model to the entire country. I don’t know that any other state has done this type of thing, where we’ve brought everybody together to work on this problem. I think that sends a clear signal that we’re willing to work together, that all aspects of the drug problem (enforcement, prevention, and treatment) are important, that one cannot get the job done without the other.

As Jennifer said, this is my first official visit after being confirmed by the Senate. And I think it’s very important that I come to the great Northwest to work on methamphetamine. I hail from Arkansas. This area and Arkansas have had a couple of law enforcement problems together.

Back in the 1980s when I was the US Attorney for western Arkansas, we had a group called the “Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.” It was a paramilitary neo-Nazi group. We had an operation to arrest these people, who were involved in all sorts of criminal acts, and they sent word out that they weren’t going to surrender and they wanted to negotiate with me. So I went up there and to my surprise, they threw me a flak jacket. But when they finally surrendered after 3 days of negotiations without a shot being fired, I found out that there were a bunch of members of that group that came from the Northwest United States, so I came here, worked with law enforcement in this area, to rid both states of a serious problem.

Today, we share the problem of methamphetamine. Both Washington and Arkansas have been hit hard by this plague. And I believe just as in the 80s and now, cooperation and coordination among law enforcement agencies will bring us success. The team effort will make a difference.

I’m very honored that the President asked me to serve in this position. Leaving Congress was a big decision for me, but I was able to do so because of the excitement of the new responsibility, the huge challenge of drug enforcement, and the respect that I have for the DEA. I worked with DEA when I was US Attorney, I understand the commitment they have, the professionalism of that agency, and the desire to back up folks like your Sheriff who are doing such a great job. That’s the mission of the DEA, and we want to continue that mission.

But the other reason I’m willing to leave Congress is because of that mission. I believe deeply as a parent, prosecutor, member of Congress, that there’s nothing more important we confront in our nation than the significant problem not just of methamphetamine, but drugs as a whole.

Before I talk about methamphetamine problems specifically, I want to address the importance of the anti-drug effort in our country.

The essence of our democracy is that freedom is maintained through individual participation, individual sacrifice, and the sharing of our common values. The drug culture erodes and ultimately destroys everything that is necessary for democracy to work.

Meth-Related Emergency Department Episodes: 1998 - 11,491; 1999 - 10,447; 2000 - 13,513.  Source: Drug Abuse WarningWhen one of us is overtaken with the consuming and controlling desire for drugs, there is nothing else—no thought of responsibility to family, nothing for the betterment of community, and our common values are shelved for the immediacy of drugs.

Legalization of drugs is advocated today in the name of freedom, but freedom cannot be maintained by a society devoted to drugs. There is an inconsistency there. We give up freedom and become slaves to an addiction.

In the early 1900s, when we really had a problem with addiction, Dr. Dana Hubbard studied addiction and came to this conclusion:

“Addicts largely ignored the traditional values of community, hard work, and deferred pleasure…they are insistently selfish and self-concerned. For others, they care not at all.”

Our common freedoms and our cherished democracy cannot survive in that culture. This battle is important, it is worthy, and it is essential to our nation.

My goal from this trip is to learn from you—the people on the front lines of this problem. Whether you’re engaged in arresting and prosecuting meth dealers and lab operators, cleaning up the hazardous labs, educating the public, treating addicts, leading community efforts, or protecting children, every day, I want to learn from you.

What a great turnout today. I think it will be a model for our nation. It is a story that will be told. As our Attorney General John Ashcroft said, meth is the #1 drug problem in this nation. I talked with Congressman Bill Jenkins, a member from Tennessee about a year ago, and I was telling him about the meth problems in Arkansas. He said he never heard of that. A year later, he said it hit us. So if they’re not dealing with it now, they’ll be dealing with it in the future.

Perhaps more than any other drug this country has experienced, methamphetamine affects everybody in the community. With each young person lost to the culture of meth, America suffers an injury to our future. We all are diminished by methamphetamine.

Here in Washington, it’s not hard to identify some of the many ways it has damaged the lives of users and nonusers alike. Consider the three people who died and two who were injured when a driver, high on methamphetamine, sped the wrong way down I-5 and into three lanes of oncoming traffic; or the Seattle couple who had to move 5 times in 6 months to avoid toxic meth labs that were operating in their apartment buildings; or the scores of children left orphaned by meth-addicted parents. Clearly—more than users are harmed by meth.


Street Names: Meth, Speed, Ice, Chalk, Crank, Fire, Glass, and Crystal.

Physical Effects: Methamphetamine is a toxic, addictive stimulant. Meth use dilates the pupils and produces temporary hyperactivity, euphoria, a sense of increased energy, and tremors.

Dangers: Methamphetamine use increases the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and rate of breathing, and it frequently results in violent behavior in users. Methamphetamine is neurotoxic, meaning that it causes damage to the brain. High doses or chronic use have been associated with increased nervousness, irritability, and paranoia. Withdrawal from high doses produces severe depression. Chronic abuse produces a psychosis similar to schizophrenia and is characterized by paranoia, picking at the skin, self absorption, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Violent and erratic behavior is frequently seen among chronic, high-dose methamphetamine abusers.

Description: Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally, and its appearance varies depending on how it is used. Typically, it is a white, bitter-tasting powder that easily dissolves in beverages. Another common form of the drug is crystal meth, or “ice,”named for its appearance (that of clear, large chunky crystals resembling rock candy). Crystal meth is smoked in a manner similar to crack cocaine and about 10 to 15 “hits” can be obtained from a single gram of the substance.

Distribution Methods: Meth is frequently sold through social networks and is rarely sold on the streets.

I was reading as I flew out here, the Economist magazine article about legalization of drugs. They quoted John Stuart Mill who said government should not be engaged in anything that only impacts an individual, so an individual should have the right to do drugs if they are only harming themselves. But we in this room know there is not such an isolated use of drugs. The meth problem changes the focus of many people, it changes their viewpoint of life. And whenever it impacts children, whenever it impacts family, it is not just impacting an individual. There is a strong merit in our democracy consistent with freedom to regulate and make illegal to use deadly drugs.

This morning, I’d like to briefly talk about three unique meth-related challenges we all face.

The first challenge of the meth trade is that we can’t blame it on our South American neighbors. We have a tendency to say the cocaine comes from there and the heroin comes from Asia or Mexico. We can’t blame meth on neighbors across the borders. It is locally produced in clandestine laboratories in Washington and other states. Here in Washington, DEA, state, and local law enforcement seized 661 meth labs last year. So we can’t blame it on anyone. It is our own consumption as well as our production that impacts us in a very unique way.

The lab operators create the toxic waste that give us the difficulty of spending $2,000 to $4,000 for the clean up of a meth lab. It’s extraordinary. And it’s something that local law enforcement is not equipped to deal with. And so Congress has stepped in and said surely it’s part of our responsibility, we want to backup our local law enforcement. This year we appropriated $48 million to help cleanup meth labs. And that’s probably not enough around the country.

And I hope in this conference you can look at some ways that we can slow down the costs, reduce the costs, reduce the manpower. But it’s a toxic waste that we have to deal in a responsible way. Your delegation should receive a great deal of credit for making sure that $48 million was available to fund the cleanup of your labs. And I hope we can continue that but it’s a challenge budget-wise to see that amount of money appropriated.

The second challenge meth presents is that international traffickers are aggressively targeting rural areas. They can increase their marketing and production that way. Its’ not just a city problem. When I was growing up in rural Arkansas, I heard about drugs on the evening news and rock stations. It’s not something that was in my neighborhood. But all of that has changed. You cannot go into America’s rural areas to escape the problem of drugs. It is there. And meth is a large part of it. In fact, it is probably a greater problem of rural America than in urban America.

Traffickers think they escape law enforcement in rural areas. But we have to make sure that’s not true. You need to be congratulated for the cooperative investigations that you have administered here in Washington. In April, I understand, Washington State Patrol, the Tacoma Police Department, and many others arrested 20 members of a Mexico-based methamphetamine organization. This criminal organization targeted many rural areas to sell their poison. But a cooperative state, local, and federal enforcement effort has dismantled this organization. That’s an example of success.

The third challenge of methamphetamine lies in the very nature of this drug. It is intense, it is highly addictive, and it is overwhelmingly dangerous. In my area of Arkansas, we’ve lost a number of state troopers and local officers, because they carried out a search warrant on a meth lab, and were confronted with someone high on meth, who was paranoid, and a shootout resulted.

The drug has a phenomenal rate of addiction, with some experts saying users often get hooked after just one use. Recent studies have demonstrated that methamphetamine causes more damage to the brain than heroin, alcohol, or cocaine.

Methamphetamine takes over the whole person. One former user described its effect on her life by saying “I went against every moral and every belief I ever had when I was on meth.” Social workers encounter meth-addicted parents who absolutely forget that they even have children. And we’ve all learned about the horrendous crimes it causes some users to commit.

In looking at our drug problems, it is not just an enforcement issue, it is treatment matter as well. I believe that law enforcement and treatment work together so well. In many instances, enforced treatment is far more effective than voluntary treatment because it makes people submit to periods of treatment that are longer than they would ordinarily undertake. Thirty days of treatment for a meth addict is not enough.

And that’s why I’m such a believer in drug courts. I understand that the hidta here in Washington state includes some allocation for drug courts, and I compliment you on that. Drug courts that I observed when I went to California last year treated nonviolent users of drugs who would receive a suspended jail sentence, but would be required to go through an intensive long term rehabilitation period—usually a year, and many times they could work during that time.

But there would be weekly drug tests to ensure that they’re off the drugs, and they would be reporting monthly to the judge. All the time, they had the threat of jail hanging over their head. The results have been good—drug courts have achieved a much lower recidivism rate than any other treatment program available.

One story I like is about Angie, a Port Angeles woman in her late twenties who several years ago became addicted to methamphetamine. It would be no surprise to anyone to learn that her life turned upside down and she became a slave to her addiction. She couldn’t hold a job, she committed burglaries, and she left her 2-year old son to fend largely for himself. Her days consisted solely of finding her next hit. She’d often bring her toddler with her to back alleys and dealers’ houses to get the drug. When she was arrested and was told her son would be taken from her, Angie’s only response to police officers was disappointment that she didn’t get a chance to use the meth she had just purchased. Not a word about losing her child. Not a word about losing her self-respect. It was all about methamphetamine.

Fortunately, that arrest and her subsequent sentencing through a drug court saved her life. She was forced into intensive and lengthy treatment where she was monitored closely by the court. Today, Angie’s been off meth for three years, is a good parent to her son, and is working in the health care field. That’s a success story we want to duplicate. She realizes how critical the drug court was to her rehabilitation and has started a drug court alumni group to support former addicts.

And so there are many lessons to be learned about what we can do in enforcement to encourage treatment, but also to encourage the education side. I’m glad we have a lot of educators here, people wanting to make sure young people make the right decision. And we have got to work together to accomplish that purpose.

I’ve talked about uniqueness of meth; from its clandestine lab side, to the intensity of it, to the fact its targeted in rural areas. Meth robs people of their very character and sense of right and wrong. It robs children of a nurturing home, and security. It robs communities of law-abiding citizens.

And that’s why we’re here today to address this problem. Thank you for your participation in this summit and for putting into practice a balanced approach that is so important. I hope that as you debate this issue, you’ll look at a couple of things specifically:

1. Precursor control—what more can we do to control
2. Lab take-down efficiency—is there a better way?
3. Penalties—are they sufficient?
4. Community coalitions
5. Drug courts—what more can we do?

Tell us what more we can do. I pledge the support of the Drug Enforcement Administration and my leadership there. I look forward to working with you. I’ll end with this story:

Mother Theresa was once asked how she was able to help so many thousands of people. And her answer was “one at a time.” And so often that’s what it takes. It comes down to dealing with one person, one family, one community at a time. That’s why your resources, but more importantly, your heart, is so significant to this effort. Thank you for what you do. I look forward to working with you.

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