GALLAGHER CALLS FOR EXPANDED RESPONSE TO FIGHT FLORIDA’S MOST DANGEROUS DRUG
Florida’s State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher announced an expanded, comprehensive strategy to combat methamphetamine or “meth,” including a call for increased coordination between state agencies, the creation of a Meth Strike Force, increased criminal penalties for meth producers, and the establishment of trust funds to clean up meth lab sites and help meth victims, including children. Joining Gallagher in support of expanded efforts was Director James McDonough, Florida Office of Drug Control.
“Meth is a high-level threat to our communities and has the potential to destroy our communities one by one,” Gallagher said. “Jails are overflowing with meth producers and users, and almost half of all children found living in meth labs need urgent medical care and intervention. Strong steps have already been taken, but we need to rapidly expand our response to combat this evil drug.”
CFO Gallagher and Jeana Prescott at the meth press conference.
“Meth is the number one drug threat facing Florida,” said McDonough, whose office is leading a statewide meth working group made up of private and public sector agencies addressing meth.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 28 meth labs seized in Florida in 2001. Last year, the number rose to 332. Since 2004, the State Fire Marshal’s Office has responded to more than 30 fires or explosions at meth labs. In June, Gallagher launched a series of training programs to provide those on the front lines with tools to deal with the new risk they face.
Among the proposals Gallagher is advocating:
Creation of a Meth Strike Force: To assist local law enforcement agencies in communities identified as meth hot spots, Gallagher is urging the creation of a Meth Strike Force that will enhance local efforts to crack down on meth; assist in response, cleanup and disposal of clandestine meth labs; and provide assistance to families destroyed by meth.
Tougher Penalties for Meth-related Crimes: Upon posting bond, meth manufacturers often return to their labs and start producing again. To stop the revolving door, Gallagher is proposing that bond be denied for meth producers.
State Fire Marshal Gallagher is also pursuing penalties for property owners who knowingly fail to disclose that a meth lab was previously found on the premises.
In June, Gallagher pledged to pursue legislation to heighten penalties for all first responders injured while responding to a meth lab. Legislation, sponsored by Rep. Greg Evers, passed earlier this year enhanced penalties for meth producers who injure a law enforcement officer, but it did not extend to firefighters and other first responders who are also often called to respond to a meth lab. Gallagher will work with Rep. Evers and other legislative leaders to correct this omission.
Protecting Children Exposed to Meth: According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, meth lab accidents burned 48 children and killed one child in 2003. After hearing stories of children crawling in spilled chemicals and playing near toxic burn piles, Gallagher is proposing that children of meth manufacturers be immediately removed from the home to get them out of harm’s way and provide them with urgent medical attention.
Creation of a “Victims of Meth Labs” Trust Fund: Cleaning up a site used as a meth lab is expensive. Not only must the site be cleaned but frequently the areas around the site must be decontaminated as well. According to a report by the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, for every pound of meth produced, 5 to 7 pounds of toxic materials remain. Gallagher is recommending the creation of a “Victims of Meth Labs” Trust Fund. Anyone convicted of manufacturing or distributing meth would be required to forfeit assets to the fund.
Creation of a “Restoring Lives” Trust Fund: To get direct assistance to victims, including children, Gallagher is seeking to create a “Restoring Lives’ trust fund using the forfeited funds. This fund would provide matching funds for private charities and ministries that collect funds to assist meth users and their children.
In Holmes County, counseling and treatment for meth addicts is available through a faith-based treatment program called Countywide Anti-Substance Abuse Effort (C.A.S.E).
Jeana Prescott, a former meth addict, is a C.A.S.E. counselor. “More than 90 percent of the people in our jail are meth addicts,” Prescott said. “Funds for intervention and treatment are critical to turning a meth user’s life around.”
Establish a State Meth Tip Line: Community self-policing is one of the most important weapons in the war on drugs. Gallagher is proposing an anonymous toll-free tip line be set up for people to call and provide leads on meth manufacturers.
Joining Gallagher at the press conference today were Chief Deputy Harry Hamilton, Holmes County; Drug Commander Jerry Jewett, Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force, Columbia County; Deputy Sheriffs David Wingate and Pete Spurlock, Columbia County; Sergeant Keith Heston, Lake City Police Department; and Robin McDaniel, an FDLE special agent.
For more information on these courses and the meth problem in Florida, log onto http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fightmeth.