Larry W. Smith  /  Getty Images file
Meth's spread has reached small towns like Pratt, Kan., where Sheriff Vernon Chinn regularly patrols for signs of production.
updated 7/5/2005 11:46:07 AM ET 2005-07-05T15:46:07

The No. 1 drug problem for many counties across the country is not cocaine, heroin or marijuana but methamphetamine, according to a survey released Tuesday.

A synthetic drug that's easily manufactured, meth has spread from the West Coast and is moving east, according to the survey by the National Association of Counties.

Of 500 law enforcement agencies surveyed in 45 states, 58 percent cited meth as their biggest drug problem, dwarfing cocaine (19 percent), marijuana (17 percent) and heroin (3 percent).

The highest meth percentages were along the West Coast and Upper Midwest. In the Northeast, on the other hand, only 4 percent of counties rated meth as their biggest drug problem. Forty-six percent cited heroin as the top problem, followed by cocaine at 21 percent.

A form of speed that is usually smoked, snorted or injected, meth quickly becomes addictive.

Robberies, domestic violence links
Other findings indicate how quickly the drug is spreading:

  • 87 percent of agencies report increases in meth-related arrests starting three years ago. Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming reported 100 percent increases.
  • 70 percent say robberies or burglaries have increased because of meth use.
  • 62 percent report increases in domestic violence because of meth use.

In a report with the survey results, the association described the spread as an "epidemic ... affecting urban, suburban and rural communities nationwide."

The federal government still considers marijuana the top drug problem in the nation, citing a 2003 survey estimating 15 million people who had smoked marijuana over the last month, compared with 600,000 meth users over the previous month.

The counties association, however, said that "county law enforcement officials have a different perspective on this ranking. With the growth of this drug from the rural areas of the western and northwestern regions of this country and its slow but continuing spread to the east, local law enforcement officials see it as their number one drug problem."

Small and large labs
Meth is imported from Mexico, Canada and Asia, the association said, as well as produced in small or large labs across the United States using household ingredients like cold medicines and fertilizer.

"The small lab methamphetamine production and market was originally dominated by motorcycle gangs and local producers chiefly in California and the Pacific Northwest," the association said, "but has grown now to include major producers in Mexico who are responsible for the organized trafficking of meth and by the thousands of small producers in nearly all areas of the country."

"Meth can be manufactured in barns, garages, back rooms of businesses, apartments, hotel and motel rooms, storage facilities, vacant buildings and vehicles," the association said — and even a suitcase.

The full report is online at

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