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American breadbasket's crystal meth 'harvest'

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'Invasion Iowa" is a new TV reality show. A fake film crew descends on a small town and pretends to make a science-fiction movie. The locals try out for the "parts." The humor is gentle. This is the Iowa of apple pies, tidy lawns, and nice farm folk.

But Iowa has another reality, and there's nothing funny about it. Iowa has been invaded, all right, and the ravager is crystal meth.

Methamphetamine is possibly the worst drug of all time. It quickly clamps a hard addiction onto users. The end product is hallucinations and paranoiac rages. People trying to kick meth may need two years to even start feeling normal.

Crystal meth ruins lives. Iowa broke up 1,472 meth labs last year alone. And the state now cares for 1,000 children abused by their parents' meth habits. Methamphetamine is responsible for 62 percent of the admissions into state prisons. Iowa's heartache is shared across the heartland - from Idaho to Nebraska to Indiana to Oklahoma.

And how has the Bush administration responded? By cutting drug-treatment programs. The proposed new budget would also slash federal funding for meth-related law enforcement and environmental cleanup by 50 percent.

The states try to do what they can. Iowa has just passed a stiff law limiting people's ability to buy cold medicines at drugstores. Sudafed, Dimetapp, and other common cold remedies contain pseudoephedrine - a key ingredient in methamphetamine.

Meth is not a ghetto drug. Its users are over 90 percent white. And while the epidemic is spreading, it remains concentrated in America's heartland. There are several reasons. One is privacy. People can cook meth in their kitchens or bathrooms. And it's easier to hide such activities in a rural area.

You can go to a Wal-Mart and buy almost everything you need to make methamphetamine. Tupperware containers can hold the acids. The only ingredient not widely sold is anhydrous ammonia. But it's easily found on farms, which use it for fertilizer.

Homemade meth can unleash a more intense high than drugs coming from California or Mexico, which tend to be less pure. And rural drug addicts might prefer buying from local sources - and avoiding the savagery of big-time dealers.


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