NE: Local Officials Testify For Meth Contamination Bill

The impact of meth contamination on children has been a concern

Nebraska Senator Tom Brandt, District 32; Mark Schoenrock, Chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners; Jefferson County Attorney Joseph Casson and Peggy Galloway, Director of Diversion Services, all spoke in front of the Nebraska Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee the afternoon of Thursday, February 17, to testify in support of LB (Legislative Bill) 756.
The bill, introduced by Senator Brandt, would change provisions in current law relating to properties contaminated by methamphetamine.

Senator Brandt
Brandt explained his reasons for the bill, “The main issue we are trying to address with LB 756 is residences where methamphetamine was used and has contaminated the property and how these residences are being rented or sold before they are properly cleaned of the meth contamination. LB 756 would eliminate the term ‘clandestine drug lab’ from statute and replace it with the broader language of ‘contaminated property.’ This change was made because clandestine drug lab is an archaic term. The reality is that these days it is neither clandestine nor a lab, as meth can be manufactured in a normal residence, such as in a bathtub or kitchen sink for example, or it is being obtained and used in the residence. The new language of contaminated property gives law enforcement and public health authorities more leeway in applying enforcement of drug laws and clarifies the definition of contaminated property to specify a portion of the property was previously used to manufacture meth.”

“LB756 also changes procedures for reporting contaminated property. The general idea is to allow for more local involvement in the cleanup,” said Brant. “The owner will be responsible for notifying local public health authorities, who become responsible for supervising and enforcing the property owner’s rehabilitation of the property to a habitable state. With updated language, owners and landlords would have to properly clean these residences before they go back on the market so new tenants are not harmed.”

Brandt also described how the methamphetamine problem has grown rapidly in the state, “Three weeks ago, the Attorney General, Doug Peterson, alongside representatives from the FBI, DEA, Nebraska State Patrol and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, announced the creation of a partnership initiative called ‘It’s a Matter of Life or Meth.’ That shows how serious this is in Nebraska. This partnership will work to sound the alarm about meth, fully inform the public about the dangers of meth and consumption and understand the destruction that brings to communities. While headlines warn of fentanyl and opioids, and they are undeniably a problem, the number one drug threat over the last 20 years in rural and urban communities in Nebraska is meth. And it has gotten more accessible, cheaper over time. The amount of methamphetamine seized in Nebraska has surged almost 300 percent in the last five years, with law enforcement agencies confiscating 768 pounds in 2021, including meth spiked with fentanyl, which renders it more potent and deadly.”

Commissioner Mark Schoenrock
Schoenrock spoke about the financial impact of meth on communities, “When I first came into public office after retiring from the Army over six years ago, I noticed a troubling trend of people who were absent from school, getting in trouble with the law and involvement in the juvenile justice system, which leads to significant costs borne by Nebraska taxpayers and our society as a whole. Truancy often leads to other behaviors that are detractors from society, and lead to significant societal costs. These costs are measured in terms of increased law enforcement costs, increase court legal costs, increased family support costs. It also increased healthcare system costs, less probability of having a job or a profession that can benefit society, to name just a few.”

Schoenrock also talked about Jefferson County’s Diversion and School Attendance Programs, “Our goal is to intervene early so that we can do all we can to get that young person on a better path that leads to desirable outcomes.”

Schoenrock said, “One of the significant barriers that we have found in our process are people growing up in a home that is contaminated by methamphetamine, even currently being used or former use. It impacts on communities in the following ways: increased abuse and neglect cases, increased costs for legal cases, increased truancy, increased medical expenses, primarily through Medicaid, increased need for mental health services, decreased property values, unsightly and abandoned properties, and not enough people available to fill the workforce because of damage to their brains and physical and mental health and increased need for more community resources. I see this firsthand every day in my role as county commissioner.”

County Attorney Joseph Casson
Casson explained how the meth problem has changed and why the law needs to be updated, “It updates the language in legislation that allows a cleaner meth contamination. Our current law, which is about 15 years old, was enacted when we had meth labs, clandestine meth labs, and if you remember back in the day, that people would go into a drugstore, WalMart, get the ephedrine. We all know that contains amphetamine. Methamphetamine is what they were extracting. They had to go through a process to extract the chemical which was a part of another medication. And that process contaminated properties. When we would bust clandestine meth labs, the property was contaminated by all the chemicals they were using to break out the usable portion of the medicine.”

“Well, things have changed. We don’t see that anymore. That’s the reason we need to update the language, to deal with the unlawful manufacture. Because we don’t have clandestine drug labs. Methamphetamine is made in bulk in Mexico from scratch,” said Casson. “We can’t control, like we could put the ephedrine behind the counter. The individual chemicals that are used to make meth are all legal chemicals. And most of those chemicals come from China and India and end up in Mexico, where they have big factories that make this substance and then it’s smuggled into the United States. And so that’s what I’m dealing with now.”

Peggy Galloway, Diversion Services Director

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Contamination of residential homes with methamphetamine is an emerging issue of significant concern to public health. Cooking or smoking methamphetamine in a residential property contaminates the house, furnishings and personal possessions within it, with subsequent exposure through ingestion, dermal absorption and/or inhalation causing adverse health effects.”

The impact of meth contamination on children has been a concern to Galloway for some time. She said, “My fear is, with the kids that live in these houses, the lifestyle is stressful and traumatic enough. But when you add in the contamination to this, from just smoking, it doesn’t have to be manufacturing, it leaves a residue in every soft, porous surface in that house: carpets, walls, bedding, stuffed animals. So there’s kids that live in this. And it gets into the ventilation systems. Every time those things kick on, they breath that in.”

Galloway said, “The studies show that, physically, kids are more susceptible, of course, because their bodies are smaller. They suffer from sleeplessness, irritability, immune effects, weight loss, dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea, throat, eye and skin irritation and dental issues and headaches.”

Galloway added, “So that puts added stress on the schools and on the programming to try and figure out how to help these kids. Right now there are 70,000 kids in Nebraska that live in drug endangered homes. So within the next five or 10 years, we have a minimum 70,000 kids who will grow up in this environment, and then we have to try and deal with how to help them.”

While no one spoke in opposition to the bill at the hearing, the legislature did receive 12 letters from individuals opposing the bill.

No action was taken at that time.

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