Carson City on front lines in battle against meth

I'm glad I got involved in Carson City's battle against methamphetamine two years ago, when it rose to the top of the city's ills, because it's a lot easier to look back on what has been accomplished than to look ahead to the work that has to be done.

Unfortunately, the state of Nevada is at the starting point in the meth battle, and it has a big hill to climb.

A state task force headed by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (and including Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira and Sheriff Kenny Furlong) is recommending ways to implement the initiative from Gov. Jim Gibbons and first lady Dawn Gibbons to knock Nevada off its perch as the No. 1 meth-using state in the country.

The state has about $17 million to spend to increase efforts in law enforcement, education, prevention and treatment - not a great deal of money when it's spread out statewide. Make no mistake: It'll help, if it goes to the right places.

Big chunks of that money, however, are going to end up bolstering programs that probably needed assistance whether meth was the biggest problem or not - more cops, more beds for drug-abuse treatment, more anti-drug messages aimed at schoolchildren.

I've heard people wonder aloud why we're so concerned about methamphetamines. Aren't there lots of other problems - cocaine, prescription-drug abuse, alcohol, gambling - fouling up Nevada?

Of course there are. Partnership Carson City, the group started by Teixeira and other leaders in early 2005, faced those questions two years ago and decided it wanted to focus on one job: Getting rid of meth in Carson City. Its goal isn't just to deal with another problem; it wants to get rid of this problem.

I hope people in Carson City have gotten the message. They've certainly had the chance, because more than 10,000 people around Carson have heard it since Partnership Carson City was formed. Just last week, another 50 or so listened to Judge John Tatro spread the word at First Baptist Church.

With meth as the common evil, the Partnership has explained how it hurts each part of our community - our neighborhoods, our schools, our businesses. How its addicts account for more than half the crime here. How it endangers children, because parents who use meth can't be bothered to care for their kids, and because the age of users keeps getting younger and younger. How its super-addictive qualities require months longer to treat than other drug-abuse problems.

Meth is the kind of insidious enemy that requires a particular strategy to defeat. The battle is going on internationally, for example, through attempts to cut off supplies of pseudoephedrine to Mexico, where super-labs are creating most of the meth. Before the crackdown began, three times as much pseudoephedrine had been shipped to Mexico than could possibly be used by people with head colds and allergies.

On the federal level, pseudoephedrine (used in medications like Sudafed, but also a prime ingredient in meth manufacturing) has been pushed off the shelves and behind the counters at stores. In Nevada, a bill is before the Legislature to require a prescription for pseudophedrine drugs. The strategy is to prevent it from being easily available in Nevada when the Mexican drug labs are crippled and people start making meth at home again.

Under the Gibbonses' proposals, the state's Department of Public Safety will be able to put more narcotics cops on the street to help out the forces such as Tri-Net in Carson, Douglas and Lyon that already are busting drug rings. The governor, first lady and other state leaders are to be congratulated for pressing the state's resources into the battle.

In Carson City, the Board of Supervisors has put $200,000 into the fight. With its two-year start, it isn't exactly ahead of the curve on meth - but it is ahead of the rest of the state.

We have a team of deputies concentrating specifically on meth, not just the sellers but also users who are breaking into homes and cars, forging checks, forgetting to feed their kids and fueling all sorts of crimes (not to mention providing a source of revenue for drug-selling gangs).

We have a new means of treating meth addicts, a program that lasts 18 months instead of 12 months. If they can make it 18 months, they have a chance. If not, they start over again - in jail.

We have an agreement with the Washoe Tribe so that meth users can't hide on reservation lands. Nobody else in the state has an agreement like it. Prosecutors in Lyon, Douglas and Carson are working on policies so there aren't gaps between the counties in how they deal with drug cases.

There's more going on, too, because Carson City got down to business and took its meth problem seriously. Like I said, I'm so glad we've moved this far in two years.

We have an example here for state leaders to consider for their policies, their new laws and where to spend our money. We didn't create a new bureaucracy. We didn't hire anybody to take care of our problem for us. We didn't shuffle it off on somebody else to solve, saying this is the sheriff's problem, or the counseling center's problem, or the court's problem, or the school's problem.

We realized it was our problem. We realized we were the ones who needed to fix it. And then we started working on it.

• Barry Smith is a member of the steering committee for Partnership Carson City.


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