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Methamphetamine summit spurs ideas

By Ed Brock & Justin Boron

As the "Methamphetamine and Georgia: Seeking Solutions" summit came to an end, representatives from around the state were bringing home what they hoped were some new approaches to the problem.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse hosted the summit that kicked off on Tuesday at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta. The purpose of the summit, according to the Governor's Office, was to form a comprehensive strategy to address the problem on the state and local level.

Attendees at the summit included representatives from law enforcement agencies, prevention organizations, health and treatment services, criminal justice, child and family services and first responders.

Perdue delivered the keynote address at the conference on Tuesday.

"The rise in manufacturing and abuse of methamphetamine in our state over the last few years is a serious threat to Georgia families and Georgia communities," Perdue said. "This pattern of meth-addicted parents showing absolute disregard for the lives of their own children is what disturbs me to the core about this plague. It is destroying families and killing children and we have to do all in our power to put a stop to it."

Clayton County's team at the summit included Clayton County Drug Task Force Special Agent in Charge Clarence Cox, Superior Court Judge Steven Boswell and Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske, Clayton County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Luvenia Jackson and the county's Department of Family and Children's Services Director Cathy Ratti.

"We've all identified some roles and things we need to work out in terms of policies so we can deal with the problem," Cox said.

"We identified some problems and now we're working on the solutions."

Two of the major issues in combating the problem are funding for preventative and law enforcement programs and interagency coordination. Just attending the summit together with the other members of the Clayton County team helped them with the second issue, Cox said.

Teske and Cox also said that one thing they learned from the conference is that methamphetamine is predominantly a problem in the white community.

Phil Price, agent in charge for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's North Georgia Regional Office, explained why.

"The national trend of white methamphetamine use started with motor cycle gangs, which are predominantly white," said Price.

The drug's demographic trend toward whites developed through an insular network of users and producers, who often have tight-knit relationships outside of the drug exchange.

"There are no street corner sales of methamphetamine," Price said. "We're not dealing with faceless dealers and faceless users."

But in Clayton County a majority of the population is black, and in the black community crack cocaine is the predominant problem drug, Cox said. Thus, Teske and Cox said the Clayton County approach must include both drugs.

"That will encompass our entire demographic," Cox said.

Jackson said she thinks the approaches discussed during the summit can be applied to substance abuse in general. And she added that Clayton County has a perfect vehicle for addressing the problem, the Clayton Collaborative, an organization of various agencies and groups dedicated to improving the quality of life in the county.

"We're better off than many counties because we do have the Clayton Collaborative," Jackson said.

Teske said he wants the collaborative to create a subcommittee dedicated to combating the problem. The subcommittee would require sharing of confidential information between agencies, an action plan and oversight.

"So we have a very specific objective," Teske said.

Ratti said her caseworkers often encounter drug use by parents in cases they are investigating.

"I've learned (at the summit) a great deal about the scope of the problem," Ratti said. "Though we don't have a big problem with methamphetamine in Clayton County at the moment this is something we need to put on our watch list."

With the exception of two city of Hampton police officers Henry County did not have a team at the summit, but Henry County Police Chief Henry White said methamphetamine is a statewide problem and therefore is an issue in Henry County as well.

"We're in the business of combating it," White said.

"Methamphetamine is one of the major drugs we're seeing in the county right now," said Henry County Police Lt. Michael Gaddis who heads the department's narcotics unit. He added that there is no one particular area where it is most common.

One reason for the popularity of the drug is the ease with which it can be made, said Henry County Superior Court Judge Arch McGarity. McGarity recalled that five years ago crack was the drug of choice, and during one case he entered crack into an Internet search engine and was given a Web site with a recipe for making that drug.

The same thing can be done for methamphetamine, McGarity said, allowing the whole production of the drug to remain within a tight group.

"It makes it tougher to catch them," McGarity said.

Methamphetamine is distributed through a network of acquaintances, who by word of mouth, set up sales and exchanges, making it difficult for law enforcement to penetrate the drug's trafficking, Price said.

Enforcement is dependent on expensive undercover surveillance, further complicating moves to halt the drug's spread.

Gaddis said his department hasn't found many methamphetamine "labs." When they do it is often because neighbors notice the distinctive smell coming from the labs.

Henry County's DFCS workers also refer cases to the police department when they encounter drug use in families they are investigating.

"I look over those every week," Gaddis said.

McGarity said that there should be more proactive work in the community to stop drug abuse in general. There are many secondary problems created by the use of methamphetamine as well, the judge added. For example, it can make the user more aggressive, McGarity said, and that can contribute to the problem of domestic violence.

"It's a bad drug, it doesn't do good things for you," McGarity said. "It makes you do strange things."