Moving Beyond the Vision:
Arizona Moves from Planning to Action

Housing Development Arizona is at the tip of the spear in our nation’s efforts to combat methamphetamine. Forty-three percent of the methamphetamine coming into the United States from Mexico comes across the Arizona border and finds its major distribution points in Phoenix and Las Vegas. In addition, current data from the Impact of Substance Abuse: A Snapshot of Arizona, January 2009, reports that the number of labs making meth is on the increase, rising from 6 in 2007 to 29 in 2008. This is in large measure the result of the “smurfing”1 activities of organized criminal gangs operating in the Southwest. Despite that reality, prevalence rates among Arizona youth are down and the state is making significant progress in expanding access to treatment for families and children. Data from the 2008 Arizona Youth Survey shows that past 30-day use of methamphetamine among youth has decreased in all counties since 2006 and in some instances by up to 50 percent.

Success for Arizona has required hard work. Governor Janet Napolitano, now secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, made methamphetamine a priority in her administration. In 2005, she appointed a highly visible Methamphetamine Task Force, chaired by Barbra LaWall, the Pima County Prosecutor. Within 2 years, the Task Force produced Call to Action, a plan with priority recommendations and a system of reporting and accountability that have transformed the way Arizona responds to methamphetamine and other illegal substances.

Each recommendation was supported by staff with appropriate agency assignments and specific timelines and monthly reports were submitted to the Governor’s Office of Substance Abuse Policy.

With funding support from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office), the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, the principals of Strategic Applications International (SAI) have facilitated 22 Governor’s Summits on Methamphetamine. SAI’s work with Arizona represented a shift in strategy from a purely summit model of planning to a model that would require SAI to work closely with the state providing facilitation and technical assistance following the summit. This process and relationship has proved to be successful. Key points have emerged from the process, not the least of which is that the approach taken with meth can be used to develop comprehensive strategies to respond to all substance abuse. Bringing people together and holding them accountable for producing outcomes is critical to Arizona’s success.

As an example, at a strategic planning and task meeting of key law enforcement agencies in Arizona, Sheriff Steve Tucker of Greenlee County complained about a 4-ounce meth problem in his rural county and surmised that the Phoenix Police Department could help him solve it. While the Phoenix police felt that Tucker’s problem was not a concern compared to the volume of meth coming into Maricopa County, Richard Rosky, Regional Coordinator for the Southwest Meth Initiative of HIDTA, saw it differently. Rosky proposed that coordination between Phoenix (meth distribution point) and rural law enforcement could break the back of the rural dealer.

Tucker began regular communication with the Phoenix Police Department and soon the dealer distributing his 4 ounces of meth was off the streets. This kind of coordination among the various law enforcement agencies has proved to be highly successful in Arizona. It has improved enforcement strategies along the border, enhanced intelligence sharing, and has tightened the protocols between law enforcement and child- protective services to protect Arizona children found in drug-endangered homes.

Communication and coordination are continuing under the current administration of Governor Janice Brewer and Attorney General Terry Goddard. This is particularly essential because Arizona, like many states, is facing a huge budget shortfall.

In a new move, the COPS office has funded SAI to replicate the Arizona model in what is called the Eight State Methamphetamine Initiative, involving Utah, Minnesota, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Arizona, Hawaii, and Idaho. Each state is developing its own unique approach in dealing with methamphetamine. Florida and Idaho have strong plans and are putting accountability measures into place; Utah developed a sustainable model to respond to drug-endangered children by establishing a statewide alliance; Minnesota has strong data collection and is organizing a comprehensive approach to methamphetamine; Hawaii, who has for many years battled the presence of methamphetamine, is replicating the Meth Action Team model found in Washington state; Kentucky is focusing on intergenerational substance abuse and is revisiting its statewide strategy; and finally, Indiana has focused on building the capacity of its county coalitions and has established an interdiction model in law enforcement working closely with the state’s Fusion Center. Further, Indiana’s innovative methamphetamine treatment in its state prison is designed to reduce recidivism upon prisoners’ release.

These eights states have discovered that vigilance is essential to combating methamphetamine. General Barry McCaffrey, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, asserted that “Americans are in search of a high. Synthetic drugs is their easiest path to that high.” We have long discovered that we cannot treat methamphetamine as the drug of the day and casually move on to the next substance, whether it is heroin, cocaine, or prescription drug abuse. Meth requires a comprehensive and systemic approach. The planning and outcome- focused strategy developed by Arizona has had an impact and evidence clearly suggests that it has reduced methamphetamine use. It is an approach that begs replication.