ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Three members of President Bush's Cabinet went to Nashville today to talk about the growing problem of methamphetamine abuse. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, drug czar John Walters and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt visited a drug court to highlight the administration's efforts to fight the drug. The federal government has sent some mixed signals about the seriousness of the meth problem, and members of both parties have accused the administration of not paying enough attention to it. NPR's Howard Berkes is in Nashville and joins us now.
Howard, what did the members of the Cabinet have to say today?
HOWARD BERKES reporting:
Well, the message here, I think, to put it as simply as possible, was, `We are doing something. We've been doing a lot, and we're going to try to do more. And please don't mistake our focus on marijuana and other drugs as a sign that we're ignoring meth.' They offered--there's some new programs that they proposed. Some involve federal legislation--new federal legislation that would restrict, for example, the amount of pseudoephedrine products that could be purchased. There are programs and funding they talked about to deal with prevention and treatment programs. Most notably missing, though, were programs focused on law enforcement, and that's where much of the criticism has come of administration policy. In fact, the administration has proposed budget cuts in law enforcement programs that local law enforcement officials say they use and need to combat meth.
NORRIS: So there are new programs and new funding. How will this money trickle down to the local level?
BERKES: I've been talking to a few local officials about that and people who pay attention to how the money actually trickles down. And one of the things they noted was, first of all, that it's not clear to them that this is new money; that it's money that's already been proposed; the legislation has already been proposed. So they're not sure that it really is new money. There is some money, though, that will go for drug court programs like the one that they visited here in Nashville today, a program which offers treatment instead of jail time for addicted convicts. And there is some new money over the next three years, $16 million nationally spread over three years, that will support similar kinds of programs.
NORRIS: Howard, just quickly, that residential drug court, does that explain why they chose Nashville?
BERKES: This is the first residential drug court in the country. It's an example of the multifaceted approach to the problem that the administration says it takes. They believe that when they're criticized for not focusing enough on meth, people are forgetting that there are these other drugs that must be addressed and that there are many things that they're doing to address those drugs, meth being one. But they like this kind of program. Residential treatment is critical for meth. It is the kind of program that is necessary because meth is such a persistent drug and is so hard to kick.
NORRIS: Thank you, Howard.
BERKES: Thank you.
NORRIS: NPR's Howard Berkes speaking to us from Nashville.
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