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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 July, 2005, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Rural US gripped by meth epidemic
A haul of crystallized methamphetamine
Meth abuse is particularly bad in rural areas of the US
Methamphetamine has overtaken cocaine as the biggest drug problem in rural and small towns in the US, according to a crime survey of 45 states.

A survey of 500 county law enforcement agencies found meth-related arrests had gone up over the past three years.

More than half of the police, sheriff departments and other agencies polled said the highly addictive substance was their biggest drug problem.

Less than 20% singled out cocaine and fewer still pointed to marijuana.

Highly addictive

Methamphetamine is a chemical variant of amphetamine with much more powerful effects.

Sold as powder, tablets or crystals
Can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed
Can alter personality; increase blood pressure and damage brain
Abuse is particularly bad in rural areas.

It is easy to produce using chemicals found on farms, and the homemade labs which produce it are less easy to detect in the countryside.

The findings are based on figures collated from rural and suburban areas and do not include most of the country's largest cities.

Half of the counties surveyed said 20% of people in their jails were there because of meth-related crimes.

In some places it accounts for more than 50% of people detained, and law enforcement officials say burglaries, domestic violence and assaults have increased because of it.

The problem started in the northwestern US, but it is moving east - and it is now having what the Washington-based National Association of Counties (Naco) calls a "devastating" effect on communities nationwide.

"Methamphetamine abuse is mainly a rural and suburban problem but it is slowly moving to the cities," Naco research director Jacqueline Byers told the BBC news website.

Children also suffer - from neglect and abuse of addicted parents or carers, and from the side effects of the drug being produced in their homes.

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