House takes aim at meth

Alleviating the nation's methamphetamine problem is the aim of two congressional bills despite a White House focus on prescription drug abuse.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., announced his backing Wednesday of the Family-based Meth Treatment Access bill and the Drug Endangered Children Act of 2007. Visiting Medford Wednesday, the congressman heard about local progress in the fight against meth at a meeting of the Jackson County Meth Task Force.

"If we take our eye off it (meth), the game starts all over again," said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County and a task force member.

Participants in Wednesday's meeting cited the increased local availability of transitional housing, case management and employment opportunities for recovering meth addicts since the county's first Meth Summit in 2005. The task force, Everson said, is working to put on a third meth summit, historically a collaboration of more than a hundred people from a wide cross-section of the community.

"I think that the effort in Southern Oregon itself is very strong; it's very vibrant," Walden said, adding that he's seen more meth task forces pop up around the state since Jackson County formed its group in 2004.

Task force members Wednesday discussed the congressman's suggestion of convening all the state's similar task forces. It would be an opportunity, Everson said, for counties to share their most successful outcomes, including Jackson's yearlong intensive treatment of 24 addicts facing numerous obstacles. Eighteen months later, 18 participants remained drug-free, task force coordinator Carin Niebuhr said Wednesday.

Walden said he's learned that the "lack of access" to drug treatment is among the biggest problems facing government. The Family-based Meth Treatment Access bill proposes the expansion of 70 treatment programs nationwide, with priority for pregnant women in rural areas, Walden said.

The Drug-endangered Children Act of 2007 extends $20 million in federal funding to place children living with drug abusers into safe homes. Walden is co-sponsoring both bills, which are in House committees.

Although the White House Drug Policy Office earlier this year announced a shift from combatting meth to targeting prescription drug abuse, Walden said Congress is going to work this session toward stanching the U.S. supply of meth's precursor chemical, pseudoephedrine, from foreign sources.

"We still see very toxic methamphetamine coming across the borders," he said.

Reach reporter at 776-4487.

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