Meth program gets state attention

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

While prosecuting a methamphetamine manufacturer in 2002, District Attorney Matthew Chandler heard the words that inspired him to attack the drug head-on.

After the Albuquerque man was convicted for manufacturing methamphetamine in a Clovis hotel, the judge asked him why he’d set up shop in Clovis.

His response, according to Chandler: “Because this area is selling me the ingredients without question.”

After taking over the district attorney’s office in November, Chandler announced his plans for Meth Watch, an awareness program designed to curtail the suspicious sale or theft of ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine.

It kicked off in February.

Nearly three months later, Chandler credits the program for two meth lab busts.

“We hate to push our problems into other communities, but we have to take care of our own backyard first,” he said. “If they get so paranoid that they can’t even buy the ingredients, eventually they will move to another area.”

One of the central strategies of Meth Watch is to alienate meth manufacturers, making it difficult or impossible for them to obtain ingredients for the drug.

State officials and other communities are taking notice, Chandler said. Gov. Bill Richardson said as much two weeks ago during his visit to Clovis.

“I was very impressed with the briefing I got from your district attorney,” Richardson said during his visit to Clovis. “We’re going to be trying to develop a statewide plan that supplements this (Meth Watch) effort. It made a lot of sense to me, this kind of approach.”

Advisors close to the governor say Richardson has taken an active interest in flushing the state of its methamphetamine problems.

“This is probably the narcotic of crisis at the moment,” said Bob Schwartz, crime advisor to the governor.

In 2004, the governor supported legislation to make holding quantities of the precursors to methamphetamine illegal, Schwartz said.

Additionally, the Legislature made exposure of children to meth-cooking an “enhanced” child abuse, he said.

Attorney General Patricia Madrid commended the community for the Meth Watch program when she spoke to the Portales News-Tribune earlier this month. Chandler said he has been invited to a methamphetamine conference later this year being held by the attorney general to present Meth Watch as a possible statewide solution to meth problems.

Local retailers have also signed onto the program, Chandler said. These include grocers who sell pseudoephedrine and feed stores that sell iodine, both key ingredients of the drug.

Lovita Hale-Frusher, who owns One-Stop Feed store, verified that. She said she is able to tell who is buying iodine for legitimate reasons and who is not.

“They (meth manufacturers) always make up some ridiculous story that we are pretty sure is not accurate,” she said. In an effort to reduce selling iodine to methamphetamine manufacturers, her business is now requiring a signature and identification card for every sale of the chemical.

Chandler said the large retailers like Wal-Mart already have methamphetamine awareness programs in place, but the local retailers have all been cooperative with his program.

There have been four meth lab busts since the start of the year, which is above average, said Clovis Police Detective Roman Romero. Chandler credits two of the busts to tips received from Meth Watch.