New criminal offenses for meth producers, users

By Gus Bode

Several new laws have been created to address methamphetamine use after the amount of the drug recovered in Illinois increased 57 percent over the past three years.

“We continue to make arrests but the problem doesn’t go away,” said Robert Fierstein, Director of the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group.

Meth is a drug that affects the central nervous system and is made from ingredients most commonly found in cold medication.

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The new laws range from the creation of a new rehabilitation program for users at Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center to $3.5 million in grants to help local police agencies deal with the associated cost of cleaning meth labs.

The enforcement group, which deals with meth production in Jackson County, Williamson County and Union County, will be receiving $178,000.

However, the different funds that the group normally gets seem to have been combined into this one, Fierstein said.

In addition, he said, the officers who depend on these grants for their salary cannot receive a pay raise if the funds do not increase.

Even though law enforcement agencies like the Carbondale Police Department and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department depend on the group to clean up meth labs, funding for operations must be secured on a yearly basis.

“It’s one of those situations where we live year to year,” Fierstein said.

In 1997, there were 24 meth labs seized, however, that number grew to 959 by 2004. Meth task forces across Illinois recovered 332,155 grams of the drug last year.

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In addition to the grants, one bill defined several new criminal offenses related to meth production that will go into effect Sept. 11.

When enacted, the bill will criminalize the disposal of meth by-products and also allow police to charge lookouts involved in the manufacturing.

“I think the new legislation will actually fill voids in the current legislation,” said Jackson County Sheriff Bob Burns.

The law may assist law enforcement agencies and deter people from getting involved with the drug said Tom McNamara, Southern Illinois Enforcement Group coordinator of special projects.

“Certainly these laws are going to have an impact, but we’re also not looking at a quick fix,” McNamara said.

Reporter Destiny Remezas can be reached at [email protected]

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