U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), ranking member of the committee, invited Bell to testify after hearing him describe research being done on the Cookeville campus. His testimony addressed the Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act of 2005, a bill sponsored by Gordon, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and committee Chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, a TTU alumnus, is also a member of the committee.
“The area Tennessee Tech serves is predominantly rural and has been dramatically impacted by the meth problem,” Bell told the committee. “While the leadership of Tennessee has been deeply involved in trying to solve this problem, we need the focus this committee provides on a national level.”
The bi-partisan legislation is the result of a district roundtable Gordon hosted last year in Tennessee.
"Meth use has reached epidemic proportions," Gordon said during the hearing. "And my home state of Tennessee leads the Southeast in the number of discovered meth labs. This dangerous drug not only destroys the people who abuse it, but it also endangers entire communities because of the way it is made.
"Makeshift laboratories are set up inside homes, apartments and even automobiles. The volatile chemicals used to make meth not only pose an explosion hazard, but the toxic mess left behind also can be very detrimental to the environment and to the children who are often found inside these places," he added.
Bell explained how TTU collaborates with a number of state and regional agencies to address the meth problem in Tennessee, especially in the Upper Cumberland region where the university is located.
“It is not a university's place to go out into the streets to arrest criminals, or to remove children from their homes when the environment is unsafe, or to treat an abuser's addiction,” stated Bell. “It is a university's place to train the professionals who take on the difficult jobs on the front line of the meth battle. It is a university's place to conduct research that can provide the tools these professionals need to make a difference.
“In the time since the meth problem became apparent in Tennessee, Tennessee Tech faculty members have been eager to join the battle in a meaningful way,” Bell said. He spoke about research and service programs already being done on the campus, as well as what could be accomplished with more focused research.
So far, TTU has conducted the following types of studies:
- Using "street" methods, TTU faculty members have demonstrated that pseuodoephedrine can be extracted from most combination products -- such as cold medicines that combine the substance with other drugs.
- Chemistry professors have also conducted preliminary research on a quick-detection kit to identify contaminated areas, an aid to law enforcement authorities.
- A TTU professor is gathering psychological data on children who have been removed from homes where meth was abused or cooked to test whether exposure to meth can be linked to cognitive problems.
- TTU helped develop a "Meth Education Tool Kit" CD with video interviews featuring dozens of front-line meth specialists for distribution to law enforcement and emergency services personnel, schools, property owners and others free of charge.
"The bill attacks the problem from arguably the most important angle," Bell said of Gordon's legislation. "It takes the next logical step in one of the most perplexing and complicated elements of the meth problem - detection and clean-up of meth-manufacturing sites.
“Much more can be done, however, to address the problem, not only at home, but across the country. Because of this bill, faculty at regional universities like Tennessee Tech can make use of their expertise, engaging in the level of research required to find real solutions to the problem.”
Bell reported TTU faculty members propose expanding research in the following areas:
- In manufacturing process research: continuing work in showing how to extract the drug and "cook" the individual components to more fully understand both meth and other deadly byproducts.
- In the chemistry of detection: developing new standards at the national level for detection by researching the external environment where vapors are vented outside a home or car being used as a mobile lab.
- A technique called lab fingerprinting: creating a system of distinguishing among individual lots or batches of meth to help law enforcement tie a crime involving meth abuse to the original manufacturer of the drug – in the same way a human fingerprint can link a suspect to a crime.
- In remediation: addressing more efficient methods for identifying and containing lab products and byproducts with a rapid environmental analysis kit, and identifying standards for what is considered “clean.”
- Combining biology with psychology: understanding the physical and behavioral effects of a lab environment on victims of meth, particularly children, in order to devise more appropriate methods for faster, more complete rehabilitation.
- In education and science: expediting the spread of education initiatives and research findings in an online clearinghouse, addressing a glaring need for a central source of information.
The Gordon bill would fund a study by the National Academy of Sciences to determine the long-term health effects on children exposed to these types of environments, as well as the long-term health effects on law enforcement officers.
It also charges the Environmental Protection Agency with developing a set of national standards for cleaning sites found to be housing meth labs. And it would fund the development of field-test kits for use by law enforcement to detect the illegal labs.
"Faculties at regional universities like Tennessee Tech can make use of their expertise, engaging in the level of research required to find real solutions to the problem," Bell said. "TTU offers its wholehearted support in every level of this research."
Photo 1: U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), left, talks with Tennessee Tech University President Bob Bell after hearing Bell testify before the U.S. House Science Committee. Bell spoke about research being done at TTU to help combat the methamphetamine problem in Tennessee.
Photo 2: Tennessee Tech University President Bob Bell, at right, testifies before the U.S. House Science Committee. Bell spoke on a panel that included Henry Hamilton of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, far left, and Gary Howard, sheriff of Tioga County, New York. Their testimonies addressed issues related to the Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act of 2005. TTU faculty members and alumni have been instrumental in the fight against meth in the state.