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Speed kills. But this is not a reference to higher speed limits on Utah's freeways. It's about a frightening increase in illegal use of methamphetamine, an extremely dangerous drug that has become the "drug of choice" for many people from all age and socio-economic groups.

Education about the dangers of this drug is desperately needed. Extremely addictive, it causes paranoia and violent reactions. It has increasingly become a factor in domestic violence and police standoffs.Use of the drug in the United States has skyrocketed, with police seizures up 88 percent in 1994 over the previous year. And the dosages were more powerful as illegal manufacturers improved their product from 46 percent purity to 72 percent in two years.

In Utah, the past five years have seen a staggering increase in meth use. Narcotics officers busted only five speed or methamphetamine labs statewide five years ago but raided 56 labs in 1993-94 and 44 last year.

Speed is a particularly dangerous drug for several reasons. It is manufactured in illegal "labs" in a process involving easily obtainable ingredients that become extremely flammable, even explosive. A police raid on a meth lab in West Valley City sparked a fire in an apartment building. A similar fire at a Salt Lake Day's Inn last year forced the evacuation of 75 guests and sent two employees to the hospital.

The drug can be addictive after only one use. It can be inhaled, ingested, smoked or injected. It causes loss of appetite and sleep, with some users staying awake for weeks in a highly agitated state.

Mood changes, including extreme paranoia, can bring on violent outbursts, which are often directed at family members.

The drug is popular with both adults and teenagers and is readily available. A few of the arrests for speed use or distribution in the past year have involved a town councilman, two Brigham City police officers, and a Holladay man who was threatening suicide and held off police at gunpoint for 11/2 hours.

In Iron County, 18 people, including five juveniles, were arrested in a meth raid. Nine adults and seven other juveniles were also implicated.

A big education job is in order and just about everyone can and should get involved. But schools and law enforcement agencies in particular must alert people to the dangers of this "new" drug.