LA GRANDE - Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen began a series of programs last week to inform the public about the growing problem of methamphetamine.

The first meeting was held Wednesday at the Island City City Hall.

"It's here. It's running over us. It's the drug here in Union County that scares me to death, "said drug task force officer Gary Welberg.

One of the presenters, Welberg is an officer with the La Grande Police Department. Within the next six weeks, Rasmussen said, informational meetings will be scheduled in Union, North Powder, Elgin, Imbler and Cove. The same presentation, sponsored by Oregon Rep. Greg Smith, was given in La Grande in February.

Umatilla County, with the highest per capita number of meth lab busts in the United States, has a worse problem, Welberg said.

Methamphetamine arrests in Union County usually involve small amounts of the drug, ounces instead of pounds, Welberg said. Users now drive over the mountains to Umatilla, Pendleton, Irrigon or Hermiston to find distributors.

This eliminates the need for large volume suppliers in Union County, but has not meant the elimination of the problem.

Two of the presenters, Cedric Shanks and Union County District Attorney Martin Birnbaum, said they have family members who've become addicted to methamphetamine. Birnbaum told the audience about the problems his niece has had with the drug, finishing drug treatment, relapsing and ending up in boot camp.

She has now been clean for 18 months.

"Most of you have loved ones affected," Birnbaum said.

Shanks said his son was a meth addict and now faces a long prison sentence as a result.

"They have to be held accountable," Shanks said. He encouraged the audience to be aware of what others in the community are doing and to report signs of drug involvement. Shanks, director of Union-Wallowa County Community Corrections in La Grande, said half the people he works with on probation or parole have been involved with methamphetamine.

Three-quarters have been involved with alcohol abuse or drugs.

Welberg said that there are 10-12 arrests per month in Union County.

Six meth labs were raided in 2004. A serious complication, according to Welberg, is the use of guns by meth addicts. Weapons were found in 138 of 918 total cases involving drugs.

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