The day after his boss proposed funding to help Mexico shut off the supply of methamphetamine to the United States, deputy U.S. drug czar Scott Burns was in Salt Lake City to praise a new advertising campaign to help reduce local demand for the drug.
"Much has been done, and there's a lot left to do on the supply side of the drug trade," Burns told the Deseret Morning News. "But the demand side comes down to individuals making choices. That is the key to thwarting the illegal drug trade."
Mexico is the source of the most of the marijuana and meth consumed in Utah and across the nation, said Burns, a former Iron County attorney.
Meth use makes up a fraction of the illegal drug trade but is considered by many anti-drug groups as the "worst drug ever."
"Worst depends on your experience," Burns said. "For families with a loved one lost to cocaine or heroin, they're the worst drugs. Vicodin and OxyContin both prescription drugs are the worst drugs to someone with a family member addicted to those."
Meth is not the emergent drug it is often characterized as, Burn said. Of the 20 million Americans using drugs, 14 million use marijuana, 3 million use heroin or illegally obtained prescription opiates, 2 million use a form of cocaine and 1.5 million use meth, according to Burns' home office, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
But meth is widely regarded as the most hazardous because of its immediate harmful physical effects on the user. In Utah, users most often are young mothers. And no other drug can wreck someone's life faster, he said. Users are disproportionately jailed compared to other drug users, they are more violent, and the health costs associated with their physical ailments from use are more expensive to treat.
"I saw it first-hand all the time as county attorney," Burns said. "The collateral damage to children, family, community and society of just one user makes it in a class by itself. All levels of government and court agencies and employers must all deal with the fallout."
The drug in crystallized form is the most potent and most common. It can be eaten, smoked or injected. It produces a chemical reaction in the brain that makes users hyperalert, hyperactive and, in most cases, hypersexualized.
Bingers have been known to stay awake for days on end. According to health department reports, the longest "run" in Utah is 21 days straight. That user was a 19-year-old Ogden man taken into police custody after he became psychotic and violent due to sleep deprivation.
The further east Burns goes, the greater the anxiety communities have over meth, he said, noting that meth is the only drug where pervasive use started in the West.
"It can be found across the country today, of course, but it hasn't hit the big urban areas as hard as it did in the West and Midwest." He credits the federal government's crackdown on ephedra and pseudo-ephedra, the main ingredient in meth and in over-the-counter cold medicines.
Hundreds of labs have been put out of business in Utah and across the nation the past five years, he said. As a result, demand has shifted to the mega-labs in Mexico.
Health-department workers in Utah say that some meth users are quitting because the formerly "poor man's cocaine" has gotten much too expensive and too weak to be worth the risk.That trend has combined with "push-back" efforts by states and communities that are organizing joint public and private efforts similar to those in Utah, Burns said. "There are significant, even hopeful signs of progress."