Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
at the National District Attorneys Association Meeting
July 18, 2005 -9:00 am
It is a privilege to be here with you all today. I want to start out by acknowledging the important work those in this room are doing—work which I know entails long hours away from families and friends. I thank you for your service to your communities and for your efforts in keeping America safe.
As Attorney General, I have sworn to enforce the laws and protect the liberties of the American people. And as district attorneys, you bring your expertise and integrity to bear every day to serve the citizens of your communities.
You are the men and women on the frontlines and you have the most to lose whenever an effective law enforcement tool is lost or compromised. For this reason, I want to say a few words about the PATRIOT Act.
In my experience in the White House and now at the Department of Justice, I have seen just how critical it is for law enforcement to use the PATRIOT Act to build better communication and cooperation. We know today that the terrorists avoided detention of the plans for September 11, in part, because of our inability to share information adequately.
President Bush believes that winning the war on terror requires winning the war of information.
Sixteen critical provisions of the PATRIOT Act—including those that encourage information sharing—are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. We are at a critical point as the bill is being debated in both houses of Congress.
I am optimistic that members of Congress share my sense of urgency in making sure that law enforcement officials have the tools they need to protect this country from future terrorist attacks—tools that are consistent with our long cherished values and consistent with our rights under the Constitution.
Today, however, I want to address another growing threat to American life: The epidemic of methamphetamine drug use.
I begin with a story about a four-year-old Colorado boy named Romeo. Romeo’s parents were running a methamphetamine lab in their home.
One day, at five o’clock in the morning, a SWAT team was making the final preparations to execute a search warrant on the lab. As the final checks were made, one of the detectives on surveillance reported that he saw a “skeleton” coming out the front door.
His fellow officers thought he must have been hallucinating. But then his colleagues got a better look and saw the same thing: It was Romeo dressed in a skeleton costume and looking up and down his street. The officers at first thought he was acting as a lookout for his parents.
An officer later approached Romeo. He asked Romeo why he was dressed in a skeleton outfit and standing on his front porch. And why was he looking up and down the street at such an early hour in the morning.
Romeo’s eyes lit up as he explained that later that day his nursery school was holding a Halloween party. As he told the story, his shoulders slumped. He told the officer that he really wanted to go to the party but he hadn’t been able to wake up his mom for the last few days and didn’t know where the bus stop was. Romeo said he thought that if he got up early enough and put his costume on, he might be able see the bus and catch it as it drove by.
At four years old, Romeo could not count to ten. But as officers later learned, he could draw a picture—in detail—of an entire meth lab operation.
Sadly, as the men and women in this room know, Romeo’s story is all too familiar: It is the story of the scourge of methamphetamine.
Just a decade ago, meth was a deadly drug threat plaguing our western states. It has since spread across the entire Nation—moving east, bringing devastation in its wake.
As district attorneys from around our Nation, there are some among you who have had to grapple with this threat face to face for some time now. Others may just now be seeing the effects of this deadly drug in your own communities.
A recent survey by the National Association of Counties revealed that 58 percent of counties ranked methamphetamine as their No. 1 drug problem—three times as high as the next threat: cocaine.
According to our most recent national data, 607,000 people were “current” users of meth—having used the drug sometime within the 30 days before being surveyed. Over the previous year, 1.3 million people had used meth.
To put these numbers in context: That’s four times the number of heroin users in the United States. Meth now exceeds the numbers using crack cocaine, heroin, LSD, PCP, Ecstasy, and inhalants.
Over the last three years, law enforcement has seized, on average, 45 small toxic meth labs or dumpsites each day across America. In terms of damage to children and to our society, meth is now the most dangerous drug in America—a problem that has surpassed marijuana.
Meth’s devastation is clearly visible in the hollow forms and emaciated bodies of its users. The drug dangerously accelerates blood pressure and causes the body to overheat. Meth eats away at brain tissue at speeds that rival the irreversible damage inflicted by Alzeheimer’s. Over time, the user stops craving food, his teeth fall out, and his mind descends into psychosis.
User paranoia makes meth labs and meth busts potential death traps for law enforcement.
Not only are the sites soaked and coated with toxic chemicals, but meth manufacturers often use sophisticated surveillance, savage guard dogs, and booby traps because of their rampant psychoses.
In November 2004, the DEA raided one such lab in a home in Missouri. Three children under the age of five were living in abysmal surroundings. The rugs and counters were soaked with the toxic chemicals associated with meth production. The home was infested with roaches and rodents. There was no electricity or running water for the young children. In the midst of this squalor, the meth cooks kept their prize possessions: two well-fed, well-groomed guard dogs who ate off dinner plates.
And as this story and the story of Romeo show, meth’s collateral damage spreads far beyond the drug manufacturer and even the end meth user. Meth is a drug that crushes the dreams and the potential of thousands of children who grow up around this dangerous drug.
From 2000 to the present, more than 15,000 children have been affected by methamphetamine labs and related incidents. The burn center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital reports that at any given time 30 to 90 percent of its patients are being treated for injuries from meth lab explosions.
Unfortunately, meth is often thought of as a drug confined to rural, blue-collar users. In reality it has invaded our cities and now touches every race, gender, and socioeconomic group.
Glamour magazine has profiled meth’s increasing use by urban women. The magazine identified computer programmers, marketing consultants, even stay-at-home moms as meth users. As one former addict put it, quote, “It’s the superwoman drug . . . women use it to be super-wife, super-employee, and super thin.”
One in ten high school seniors has used meth, including high-achievers. One teen meth user described his reason for using the drug, quote, “The day never ends when you’re on meth.”
Methamphetamine is unique among drugs. It can be manufactured with as little as $50 in supplies and an Internet recipe, so it is one drug that addicts can manufacture and supply cheaply for the own needs. Meth can also be produced by superlabs in other nations and then smuggled into the United States.
This is a law enforcement problem that demands unconventional thinking and innovative solutions.
To fight the problem of meth requires us to look beyond arrests and prosecutions.
We must forge new partnerships—not just within law enforcement, but in social and child protective services.
According to the National Association of Counties, 70 percent of county officials said meth use has led to increases in robberies and burglaries. And 62 percent of counties reported increases in domestic violence because of meth.
While all of this sounds discouraging, the law can help.
An increasing number of states have shown that by reducing the availability of the key meth ingredient pseudoephedrine, our Nation can cripple the ability of meth makers to cook their deadly product:
These results are dramatic and real. They are reminders that progress is possible. These laws have been so effective that meth producers in states with pseudoephedrine controls have been forced to travel to neighboring states. The spread of pseudoephedrine control laws could help stem the spread of meth for every state.
At the Department of Justice, we have been looking closely at what states have done to combat meth so that we can capitalize on these best practices to stem the tide of meth use and production before this deadly drug claims more lives.
Last fall, the Administration’s Synthetic Drugs Action Plan released key recommendations that I support.
First, I support legislation to eliminate the blister pack exemption, which allows the unlimited sales of pseudoephedrine products if they are contained in “blister packs.”
Second, I believe in setting reasonable limitations on the amount of product that can be purchased in a single transaction and on a monthly basis without triggering a reporting requirement. That limitation is currently nine grams. New proposals would lower that to six or even three grams.
We are working with state and local law enforcement to find better ways to attack these problems using the resources of the DEA and other Justice personnel.
The DEA has made combating meth a top priority. Every DEA division now considers meth trafficking in decisions about how and where to deploy our Mobile Enforcement Teams. These teams have long worked to support local law enforcement where the need is high, but resources are limited.
Federal law enforcement under Justice Department leadership is working with our state and local partners to identify the worst meth cooks and repeat offenders for federal prosecution.
In addition, on the international front, the Justice Department continues to make advances.
State efforts and legislation have restricted local supply and production of meth, and the Justice Department is stepping up efforts to work with other nations to deal with this threat.
DEA estimates that Mexican manufacturers now produce 65 percent of the meth that is sold in the United States.
As Attorney General, I have already reached out to my counterparts in Mexican law enforcement, and together we will work to stop the “superlabs” from producing meth that is then smuggled into America.
I am confident in this approach because our track record proves such international efforts work.
By working with our international partners—particularly those in Canada—we have prevented the diversion of precursor chemicals for meth production, resulting in a 77 percent reduction in “superlab” seizures in the United States since 2001.
Earlier this year, we signed an agreement with China to share information on drug trafficking, including on pseudoephedrine exports. Chinese companies are one of the leading suppliers of pseudoephedrine to Mexican meth producers. We have also brokered an agreement between Hong Kong and Mexico. Hong Kong will no longer send shipments of ephedrine products to Mexico unless Mexico certifies that the recipient is a legitimate company.
With our international agreements in place, we have prevented the diversion of 67 million pseudoephedrine tablets—enough pseudoephedrine to produce more than two metric tons of methamphetamine.
The Department of Justice will continue to identify where the meth makers get their chemicals, and we are committed to making those chemicals harder to obtain. We know it works domestically. We know it works internationally.
Finally, we will continue working to educate the young, speak with the public, and engage local communities in the fight against this epidemic.
We all know that a critical aspect of fighting drugs is community involvement. Study after study shows that the most important influence on crime in a community is the willingness of neighbors to act for the benefit of one another.
To fight meth, we must get neighbors involved. We know that meth is highly addictive. And those who do get addicted have an extremely difficult time breaking free from that addiction. This makes education and prevention imperative to our strategy.
Our most effective education efforts must bring together citizens, parents, community leaders, schools, and businesses to emphasize meth’s dangers.
As district attorneys you know firsthand the value of citizen involvement. In Oklahoma, a coalition of citizens worked with its local drug task force to provide citizens with a way to report confidentially suspected drug activities, including meth. Thanks to this program and public involvement, approximately four to five meth busts per quarter come from citizens and neighbors.
And through the DEA, the Justice Department is supporting the expansion of innovative programs such as the Drug Endangered Children program. Thanks to this program, we have a way to get children harmed by meth away from their meth-addicted parents and get them the help they need. So many meth labs have a young Romeo in their midst, lost and hurt. It must be one of our top priorities to ensure we get them the care they need, just as we work to prosecute meth distributors and get addicts the treatment they need. I want to work with you.
The spread of meth across this country challenges every aspect of government and law enforcement. But with the legislation and cooperation of state, local, and federal authorities, we are proving that meth can be beaten and lives can be saved. As district attorneys, you are a critical link in this chain, and I welcome your ideas and expertise.
Many of you have been leading this fight for some time. And I thank you. I look forward to continuing to work at the federal level to ensure that we deploy the best tools and tactics in the fight against meth.
Together we are working to establish a Nation that is safer and more secure.
We are building communities with greater freedom and opportunity for all.
And with every successful effort, we are building hope.
As the son of poor Mexican migrants, I have lived the American dream. During my travels across our beloved America, I have met others who have lived the American dream.
We are engaged in a noble effort: to ensure that the American dream is available to our children and to every generation of American children yet to be born.
May God watch over you and your families, may He continue to guide your decisions, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.