03/12/06 — Washington trip connects county officials to federal lawmakers

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Washington trip connects county officials to federal lawmakers

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 12, 2006 2:12 AM

Several Wayne County commissioners joined more than 2,000 other county officials in Washington, D.C., recently as a part of the National Association of Counties' 2006 Legislative Conference.

Commissioners Atlas Price, Andy Anderson, J.D. Evans and Bud Gray spent four days in the nation's capital attending workshops, seminars and hearing speeches from national leaders and elected officials. Each said he walked away with an education in topics that are important to the national government, state legislatures and county policies.

"It's one of the better ones I've been to," Wayne County Commission Chairman Atlas Price said. It had good information, fairly good speakers. I think we learned much from it."

Price said he was most interested in learning more about the dangers of methamphetamine use and its rapid spread through the United States.

Methamphetamine has been used as a drug for many years. In the 1930s, doctors prescribed forms of methamphetamine as an asthma treatment, but many people began to use it as an appetite suppressant and stimulant. This continued for decades until 1971 when methamphetamine was classified as a schedule two narcotic, Price said.

In recent years, according to information the commissioners learned at the seminar, the drug has expanded to the smokable form of methamphetamine hydrochloride, which is also known as "ice," "crystal" or "glass." Ice is twice as toxic as amphetamine and chronic use can cause serious psychiatric, cardiovascular, metabolic and neuromuscular problems.

Price said he and other county commissioners saw an unfinished documentary on the dangers and effects of the drug. Independent filmmaker Matt Farnsworth's film told the story of a meth-addicted family in his Iowa hometown.

Although methamphetamine abuse has spread rapidly throughout the Midwest, Price said its effects can be found throughout the nation.

"I believe it is in Montana, one of every five people have either tried or is using methamphetamine," he said.

Evans said the discussion at the seminar included how to deal with this narcotic epidemic by shutting down methamphetamine laboratories and punishing the people who make the drug available on the streets.

"We need to do whatever we can to rid ourselves of this terrible, terrible drug in the county," Evans said.

Another important issue for North Carolina and other states is transportation. Price said he and other county officials listened to discussion by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta regarding plans and priorities.

Mineta told county officials that a new $286 billion transportation funding bill will adopt forward-looking ideas and give states and counties more flexibility to use federal transportation dollars on local priorities. This could include ideas for railroad lines, airports and highways.

If Wayne County can develop a sound infrastructure, Anderson said the region could continue to grow in the coming years.

"I have been saying this for years, but you have to get an infrastructure. Without it, everything else is dead. And it works for everything -- we can work with roads, airports, sewer, water and everything else," he said.

Anderson discussed infrastructure issues with Mineta and other national officials. He said being able to share ideas and information is the key to continued success locally and nationally, he said.

"You won't see the answers immediately, but they are coming into fruition," he said.