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Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales at Georgia Town Hall Meeting on Efforts to Combat Methamphetamines

Waleska, Georgia
March 20, 2006

Thank you, Governor Perdue for your gracious introduction and your invitation to this townhall meeting. I have two young boys still at home. At ten, my youngest Gabriel, is still at an age where he believes everything is possible… he knows of no limits on his dreams. I believe that the greatest obligation upon all of us in government is to create a society where people – not just the ten year old, but all of our citizens – have hope. A college such as Reinhardt is a place of dreams, so it’s appropriate that we consider here the great threat to the American dream posed by drug abuse. I have made the fight against drugs a major priority.

I look forward to hearing the views of you who have committed yourself to upholding the rule of law and combating drugs and, in particular, methamphetamine. This is a great opportunity to share our ideas. After all, the campaign against methamphetamine succeeds when Federal law enforcement and state and local law enforcement work together as a team. Georgia offers the country a model. I join your Governor in recognizing the great work of the Cherokee County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad.

I also acknowledge here U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia David Nahmias, who has been doing a great job working with local communities.

I could begin with a long list of all the addictive and lethal properties of meth, but one story from Catoosa County, on your Tennessee border, about a baby boy named Chelton is lesson enough. Chelton’s parents were meth cookers. As his father was cooking meth, he spilled some and ignited a flash fire. The house was filled with toxic chemicals.

As the fire quickly spread, baby Chelton was asleep upstairs. Though he was rescued from the flames, he had already been severely burned. After struggling for several months to survive in a foster home, the infant finally died. His parents did not bother to attend Chelton’s funeral. Instead, they became fugitives.

For the meth-cooking, meth-using parents, the baby’s death meant little. When law enforcement located his fugitive parents, they were stocking up on the precursor chemicals to build a new meth lab…. The virulence of the meth epidemic is seen in increases in drug treatment admissions, emergency room visits, and criminal justice encounters. In Georgia one in ten persons being sent to prison is going for a meth-related offense. Meth threatens to turn the American Dream into the American nightmare, not only for the users but family, neighbors, whole communities, and law enforcement.

The Administration’s efforts to address methamphetamine abuse and trafficking are focused on four fronts: law enforcement; prevention and treatment; education; and management of the drug’s unique consequences.

Let me first address the law enforcement aspect of our strategy. As many of you know, two weeks ago Congress passed and the President signed the PATRIOT Act Reauthorization, which included the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act. The Act provides law enforcement with additional tools to disrupt the production and trafficking of meth on both national and international levels.

Of course, States have been the leaders in passing legislation to address the problem of domestic meth production. Georgia has enacted several solid laws in this area. Most recently, Governor Perdue signed legislation last April to restrict access to products that contain the chemicals needed to make methamphetamine. Governor, I appreciate your foresight and leadership on this front.

On a national level, the Combat Meth Act places reasonable restrictions on the manner in which products containing pseudoephedrine are sold. Retail sales of cold medicines and other products containing the chemicals needed to make meth will be limited, the products will be kept behind the counter or in locked cabinets, and purchases will be logged. As President Bush put it, these are “common-sense safeguards” to foil the meth cooks, who try anonymously to buy large quantities of the needed pseudoephedrine.

States that have enacted similar or more restrictive retail regulations have seen a dramatic drop in small toxic labs. State laws that are more restrictive than the new national one, remain in place. We continue to work on joint enforcement efforts across the country. Among the federal government's most powerful enforcement forces against illegal drugs are the multi-agency Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces that exist in each judicial district across the country. Recently, I directed that they focus new attention on major meth traffickers, repeat meth offenders, and individuals and companies that knowingly supply the chemicals and other components used to make meth.

Following the States’ passage of effective anti-meth laws, we have seen a rise in meth from Mexican-based drug organizations. The Administration is working with our counterparts in Mexico to address the production and trafficking of methamphetamine.

Also, the Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration has provided training and equipment to meth-focused law enforcement teams in Mexico. To support this effort, Mexico has imposed import quotas on the primary ingredient used to make meth, pseudoephedrine.

Domestically, the Department has successfully worked together with state and local officials here in Georgia and around the country on enforcement efforts. Virtually every meth case that the DEA and other federal agencies investigate is done in close cooperation with state and local law enforcement. I understand that the Federal government cannot be successful in this effort without your help. We are all on the same team and I want to see you succeed.

For example, the Federal government is working with the states on meth prevention and treatment efforts. The Department of Justice closely coordinates with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services in this area.

Through its grants, the Department of Justice supports a variety of treatment programs. Many states, including Georgia, have established drug court programs – an innovative way to assist drug offenders to clean up their lives and reduce the rate of recidivism.

Of course by the time someone is hooked on meth, the battle is often lost… the dreams are gone. So, the best treatment against drug abuse is prevention. And that means education, particularly for the youth. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has commenced a youth anti-drug media campaign focused on meth.

In addition, DEA has launched, an engaging and interactive website directed at teens. A section of the website dedicated to meth includes graphic before and after pictures of addicts.

I mentioned earlier that meth production and use has unique consequences. I mean consequences for children, like Chelton, for my sons, and the children of your communities.

The Combat Meth Act supports state treatment of children who have been endangered by living in a meth-producing or distributing house. Under the new law, the presence of a child in such a place raises the federal penalty by up to twenty additional years of imprisonment.

As my survey of our work indicates, Federal law enforcement and prosecutors have established strong working relationships with our state and local partners. We will continue our efforts, utilizing the new tools provided by the Act.

We all share a responsibility to work together on this issue until we ensure a bright, successful, and drug-free future for our children and grandchildren. That would bring the American dream closer to all of us. I look forward to the discussion. Thank you all.