Testimony of Dianne Jacob Supervisor, County of San Diego, District Two Senate Select Committee on Methamphetamine Abuse

San Diego County Administration Center
May 5, 2006

As meth-related community problems spread like wildfire across the Country, particularly in the American Heartland and California’s Central Valley, law enforcement, public health officials and policy makers are eager to do something, anything to halt the ravages of this insidious drug.

By now, we already know that meth is cheap and easy to make. We know that users are prone to violence which frequently lands them in the custody of the criminal justice system. We know that users develop expensive health problems— dental problems, depression— that the system must pay for because users often don’t have jobs.

We also know that parents on meth put the drug ahead of the safety of their kids. Those kids are frequently abused and likely to repeat the same sad cycle as their parents. And, we know that labs are explosive and that the byproduct of cooking is harmful to the people and the environment.

You already know the bad news. Unfortunately, I don’t have good news. What I do have is encouraging news.

San Diego is ground zero for the nation’s meth problem. Arguably, no jurisdiction in the world has more experience fighting this drug than San Diego County.

The Meth Strike Force— made up of more than 70 local, state and federal and private agencies— has been working for 10 years to make in roads against this single drug. The best we can say is that we are holding the line.  Lab busts are down. More users are seeking treatment and arrests for meth sales and possession are relatively steady.

Still, meth remains the single, illicit drug-of-choice among lawbreakers in our County and demands much of our public resources. But it is has not overtaken us the way it has overtaken other areas. Meth deaths are up and that is troubling. We think this speaks to the increasing purity of the product. I initiated the Strike Force in 1996, in response to a spike in meth violence, a high number of meth-related arrests and meth-related emergency room visits.

At that time, law enforcement was tired of arresting the same offenders over and over. Recidivism rates for meth offenders were defeating.

Prevention specialists had insight and energy, but there were few mechanisms to integrate their voices into abatement strategies. 

The treatment community had an extraordinary amount of information about successful treatment modalities that needed to be shared with a wider audience. Meth users need specialized treatment. They need to sleep. They need residential treatment. The depression can be severe.   

On the intervention front, successful strategies to get users into treatment earlier in the course of their addiction existed, but they needed to be highlighted.  

The Meth Strike Force brought together these four sectors— Prevention, Interdiction, Intervention and Treatment. If you take one thing away from my remarks today, know that our multi-disciplinary, many-agency approach is the secret of our small but numerous successes.

When you have treatment specialists, judges, deputies, prosecutors, trauma surgeons, educators, covert agents, policy makers, prevention specialists and media strategists at one table and tasked with attacking a common enemy, good ideas result.

Over the years, this collaborative and locally-based body has identified a lot of ammo to aim at meth. Here are some of the programs and projects that are important to us.

Everyday our meth hotline helps users get treatment and helps law enforcement bust dealers and cookers. The hotline is local and anonymous.  The number is 1-877-No2Meth.

We have expanded the Drug Endangered Children program, which rescues kids living around meth. I am aware that you have heard from Bill Wood, Assistant District Attorney about DEC.  Law enforcement and social services are working hand-in-hand so that kids are no longer an afterthought at crime scenes. In this County, child safety comes first. I would like to see DEC protocol become standard operating procedure statewide.  

We support the successful Drug Court program which helps non-violent lawbreakers earn their freedom from the criminal justice system by teaching sobriety and self-sufficiency. In a moment you will hear from Judge Patricia K. Cookson about this cost-effective way to attack the drug/crime connection. Drug courts are law enforcement teaming up with the treatment community with the goal of getting lawbreakers clean. It is equal parts carrot and stick and its success rates are impressive. 

We have limited the sales of over-the-counter ingredients used to cook meth. You can't buy more than 3 packages (9 grams) of Sudafed in this County during a single purchase. We have seen lab seizures in our County decrease since this law passed in 1997. But there may be a flip side to this law and I will discuss that in a moment.

At participating stores, particularly in our North County, we have trained retail clerks to recognize suspicious purchases and then use the hotline to report them. Anybody buying gallons of iodine, pallets of kitty litter and lots of plastic tubing raises a red flag.

We continue to wage media advocacy campaigns about meth. This is one of our most important on-going activities. Later, you will hear from a media specialist who can speak to the differences between buying advertisements that tell people “meth is scary” versus journalistic news coverage that educates viewers and readers about its dangers. I am not speaking ill of government-sponsored public service announcements. I am simply saying that earned media is more credible and more objective in the eyes of the public.  

We support the Screening and Brief Intervention program which takes place in a non-threatening healthcare setting. Connie Moreno-Peraza will be telling you more. I can tell you that when a medical professional broaches the subject of substance abuse with a patient, it is an opportunity for that patient to recognize possible signs of addiction and hopefully seek treatment.

This past year, we identified a relationship between meth use and identity theft. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis will discuss this. Meth makes users stay up for days and focus on repetitive tasks. This activity lends itself to computer hacking, check forging and paper crimes. Right now, County government is reviewing document destruction and retention standards for all departments. We’re identifying all vulnerabilities to ID theft so we can protect the personal information of taxpayers.

These are a few of our battles. I encourage you to review previous Meth Strike Force report cards to learn more about our decade-long story. It is a story that will keep getting longer the more we learn.

Right now, we’ve got a minor experiment going on with women in our jails. We call it, Speed into Recovery. In 2004, more than 40 percent of the women booked into our jails tested positive for meth. That’s four out of every 10. Today, we hand each and every woman booked into our facilities a pamphlet, but not just any pamphlet. The pamphlet was designed by female addicts in recovery and has treatment, child care and domestic violence information. Will it steer more women to treatment? We shall see.

Now, a word about the chemicals used to make meth: Are U.S. lab seizures down because precursor chemicals are harder to get? Or, have drug cartels based in Mexico cornered the U.S. market?  I will quote the National Drug Threat Assessment 2006, prepared by the National Drug Intelligence center: Mexican drug trafficking organizations, including the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel, quote: “produce, transport and distribute much of the methamphetamine available in U.S. drug markets.” Seizures of meth at our Border have doubled in the last year.  This is a tremendous, tremendous problem. And the federal government must address it now.

What can the State learn from the Meth Strike Force? I will leave you with just two thoughts:  

First and foremost, recognize that interdisciplinary coordination is crucial. Experiences with Drug Court demonstrate that close coordination between the law enforcement and the treatment communities yields positive treatment outcomes. The DEC team is another example of a proven partnership between law enforcement and the health sector. We are not going to treat this problem out of our State. Similarly, we are not going to arrest this problem out of our state. This is a war on numerous fronts and those fronts must work together.

Second, know that media advocacy keeps meth problems on the public agenda. There is not one single message or action that can solve meth problems in a paid campaign. The impacts of meth cry out for feature stories, editorials and daily stories that examine all facets of the drug. Field research shows that scare campaigns have yielded limited results. 

In closing, there is no magic bullet against meth.  Our first Strike Force co-chair used to like to say, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” And that’s true. It takes community-based collaboration to arrive at tailored solutions for individual jurisdictions. Meth is a complicated drug with wide-ranging impacts. Fragmented, isolated strategies will not work.