Last week, men and women from state, local, and federal law enforcement completed Operation Wildfire — a massive, coordinated, nationwide operation to fight the deadly scourge of methamphetamine.
I am pleased to be here today – joined by Karen Tandy, Administrator of the DEA, and McGregor Scott, chairman of the U.S. Attorneys Methamphetamine Working Group – to discuss the results of this operation.
Before doing so, I want to tell the story of a one-year-old infant named Chelton, because behind the numbers today are individual stories of those we are trying to help.
As many of you know, meth is highly addictive. It is easy and cheap to produce. And for too many children in too many communities, meth leads to victimization, abuse, and neglect.
Chelton’s parents were meth cookers. One day his father was cooking meth and spilled a coffee pot filled with fuel onto a Coleman burner. The flame ignited a flash fire. The house was filled with the toxic chemicals for meth cooking, so Chelton’s parents grabbed his five-year-old brother and ran out of the home.
As fire quickly spread, Chelton was asleep upstairs. His parents soon realized Chelton was still in the house. The father got a ladder and managed to rescue the boy from the second story.
But Chelton had already been severely burned over 30 percent of his body, and he had sustained serious internal injuries. For several months Chelton struggled to live, but he eventually died of his injuries.
His parents did not bother to attend Chelton’s funeral or burial. Instead, they became fugitives.
For the meth-cooking, meth-using parents, the little boy’s death meant little. When law enforcement located Chelton’s fugitive parents, the mother and father were stocking up on the precursor chemicals to build a new meth lab.
For our brave men and women in law enforcement, the tragic story of meth isn’t limited to the addiction and decline of meth users or the greed of meth cookers. It is the story of young lives lost and dreams and potential destroyed.
As a father of young children and as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, I am concerned about the scourge of meth. And Federal law enforcement and our U.S. Attorneys, in conjunction with our state and local partners, have been working valiantly to combat this problem. Over the last three years alone, law enforcement has seized, on average, 45 small toxic meth labs or dumpsites each day across America.
In Operation Wildfire, the Drug Enforcement Administration led a combined law enforcement effort that attacked meth in 200 cities across the United States.
As a result of Wildfire, we arrested 427 people. We seized 208 pounds of methamphetamine. We took 524 pounds of precursor chemicals off the street. That’s more than 200,000 tablets of pseudoephedrine, 158 kilograms of pseudoephedrine powder, and more than 220,860 tablets of ephedrine – enough to provide 284,000 people with a hit of meth.
In each of these busts, in every one of these cities, the men and women of law enforcement put their lives—and their hearts —on the line. As the sad story of Chelton shows, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Operation Wildfire or to fully quantify what it means in terms of lives saved and children protected.
It was only two weeks ago that Director John Walters of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt; and I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to discuss this Administration’s nationwide plan for attacking meth.
At the Department of Justice we are focused primarily on enforcement and today, we’re seeing the results of that law enforcement strategy.
Earlier this year, Administrator Tandy declared meth a top priority for the DEA’s Mobile Enforcement Teams. The DEA commits more than $145 million per year to combat meth.
The U.S. Attorneys Methamphetamine Working Group has been working to develop effective strategies with members of Congress and state and local officials.
As part of our ongoing and expanding efforts, yesterday I spoke again with Mexico’s attorney general, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, about working more closely to stem the tide of meth coming from Mexico.
We are making more arrests, there are more prosecutions. But our enforcement success depends on our local, state, and international friends and allies. I want to thank all the men and women of law enforcement who took part in Operation Wildfire.
At the Department of Justice, we understand that the cause of justice is only as strong as the bonds within the justice community. And as we strengthen those bonds we do so knowing we strengthen the hope and opportunity in America.