The fight against meth in rural Arizona has received a huge boost from Governor Janet Napolitano.
"I am dedicating $5 million for the Arizona Department of Public Safety to form three meth interdiction and investigation squads and provide support to our rural communities, which often have limited crime-fighting resources," the governor said.
In addition to the monetary allocation, Napolitano's administration is in the process of creating a multi-agency task force "that will analyze our anti-meth strategies from top to bottom to ensure we are tackling this problem from every angle possible."
The governor's decision to fund the meth fight was good news to those on the front lines of the battle.
"All the resources we can get are needed up here," said Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner. "We are fighting a big (drug) problem. Our DUI drug arrests have gone up from six in 2002 to 33 in 2005."
Gila County Meth Coalition member and town councilor Tim Fruth agrees. "It's exciting to see the governor willing to put that kind of money into the fight against met addiction," he said. "It has destroyed a lot of families and I've seen it working its way into our younger population."
In the past few months, Gartner has conducted an extensive study of how meth and other drug activity is weaving its way into the lives of those in the Rim Country.
Gartner expects the study will be released to the public in the next few weeks and anticipates it will shed new light on how extensive the problems are.
Napolitano's announcement came on the heels of her appearance at the inaugural Arizona Methamphetamine Action Conference Feb. 13 and 14 in Phoenix.
There, she told the audience -- which included the seven-member Gila County Meth Coalition -- that those involved in the fight against meth addiction must work to restrict access to nonprescription medications that are used to make meth.
In particular, she was referring to pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient in making meth.
"If the ingredients for the drug are harder to get, fewer people will make it at home," Napolitano said. "And with a tougher statewide approach that uniformly restricts the sale of pseudoephedrine and other precursor products, we can stop meth cookers from going city to city to stock up on pseudoephedrine."
The tougher statewide approach the Governor advocates is HB 2815 which would require that products containing pseudoephedrine be sold only by licensed pharmacy staff, and customers must show photo identification and sign a written or electronic log.
Also, the proposed law would limit customers to nine grams of pseudoephedrine in 30 days and the drug would only be sold to buyers at least 18 years of age.
HB 2815 is currently being heard in the House of Representatives by the Committee on Government Reform.
At most retail stores in Payson, products containing pseudoephedrine are now stored behind counters. Although buyers must ask to purchase them, no records are kept.
Gila County Narcotics Task Force Agent Jimmy Oestmann says local businessmen have cooperated in the effort to keep pseudoephedrine out of the hands of illegal meth cookers.
"They are making it more difficult to get the chemicals and that is good," he said. "That legislation and enforcement will reduce the problems we see."
At the Methamphetamine Action Conference, the audience of 700 from around the state also heard experts in the field say that the fight against illegal drugs is not limited to "mom and pop" kitchens located in the state.
"Much of it is smuggled in from Mexico where there are ‘super labs'," Eastern District of California U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said. "Mexico is the ‘Columbia' of meth."
Napolitano plans to address the problem of Mexican drug smuggling in her $100 million border imitative.
"We cannot afford to lose an entire generation of Arizonans to this destructive and deadly drug," she said. "It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that we are doing as much as we can to protect our state's children from the dangers of methamphetamine."