Volume 2 Number 37
September 12, 2005

Consumer Services HelpLine Number 800-342-2762

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A message from Tom Gallagher, Florida's State Fire Marshal

Methamphetamine, or “meth,” may be the most destructive drug ever to hit Florida.

It destroys the mental and physical health of the user and robs them of all motivation except to get or make more of the drug.  As a result, it poses a tremendous safety and health risk to our communities.

The process used to make meth is volatile and the chemicals are deadly to both the user and innocent bystanders, which too often are children. 

As Florida’s State Fire Marshal, I have learned that fires and explosions resulting from the manufacturing process have killed and injured hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters.  The fumes from such a fire can cause irreversible eye, throat and lung trauma.  And the byproducts of the meth-making process can contaminate the ground where makers often burn or bury their waste.  This poses serious health risks for entire neighborhoods.  Just last month, Osceola County sheriff’s deputies arrested two people caught making meth in a hotel room after a staff member noticed a strong chemical odor.

In August, a convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to operating a meth lab in his Fort Pierce home.  Officers found numerous items in his home that were used in the dangerous process of manufacturing the drug.

In August, the Daytona Beach News Journal reported an Oak Hill woman was caught manufacturing meth in a New Smyrna Beach motel room, one of numerous meth labs reported found in Volusia County so far this year.

The U.S. Department of Justice this week announced the completion of a nationwide raid that resulted in the arrests of 427 people in more than 200 cities and the confiscation of 56 meth labs. They also removed 30 children from the labs. On Thursday, the Miami Herald reported the arrests of 12 traffickers accused of distributing the highly addictive drug at several South Florida locations, including high schools.

Detectives with the Division of State Fire Marshal have already responded to more than 30 meth lab fires and explosions in recent months and needed medical treatment from exposure to meth fumes and chemicals.

As we began responding to more of these incidents, we recognized the need for specialized training for law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders.  This spring, we initiated several meth training programs and are continuing to get requests for more.

In response to this rapidly growing problem, I have proposed an expanded, comprehensive strategy to combat meth, including:

• Creation of a Meth Strike Force:  This strike force will 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.  Bond should be denied for meth producers, both to stop the revolving door and give them an opportunity to get the treatment they need to get off the drug.

• Protecting children exposed to meth:  After hearing stories of children crawling in spilled chemicals and playing near toxic burn piles, I am 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.  Anyone convicted of manufacturing or distributing meth would be required to forfeit assets to this fund.  

• Creation of a Restoring Lives Trust Fund:  This fund would provide matching funds for private charities and ministries that collect funds to assist meth users and their children.   

• Establish a Florida Meth Tip Line:  Community self-policing is one of the most important weapons in the war on drugs.  An anonymous toll-free tip line could provide leads on meth manufacturers.

I also am proposing penalties for property owners who knowingly fail to disclose that a meth lab was previously found on the premises.  Citizens must be made aware of the possible risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals, especially if they have children.

I also want to pursue heightened penalties for injuries to any first responders because of exposure to a meth lab. Legislation, sponsored by Representative Greg Evers, passed this year and 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.

The proposals I am putting forth come from those on the ground dealing with this problem every day and are aimed at attacking the problem and maximizing available resources. 

I’m urging Floridians to support these initiatives and encourage your legislators to do the same.

To learn more about training and the meth problem in Florida, log onto http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fightmeth.

The new courthouse in Indian River County, is named for the scenic body of water running between the barrier islands and the mainland along Florida's Treasure Coast. America's first National Wildlife Refuge was established on Pelican Island in the Indian River by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.