Working for the local newspaper I am well aware of stranglehold that methamphetamine has on our community.

Still, I was caught off guard by last week's drug bust in which seven people, so far, have been arrested on meth-related charges. It's not so much the drug bust; what threw me was where people were arrested. Suspects were found at a King Street residence in downtown Brookings, only a few short blocks away from the Pilot office. The main target of the bust was a residence on Oceanview Drive, where authorities believe drug deals happened regularly. It is a quarter-mile or so from my Harbor home.

In either case, this drug activity is too close for comfort. And it's not the first time. About five years ago, someone smashed the passenger window of my wife's car, which was parked in our driveway, and walked away with some personal items. It was one in a series of smash-and-grabs in the neighborhood. At the time, the deputy who took the report and I both suspected the culprit was someone trying to support a drug habit.

These incidents, especially the arrests on Oceanview Drive, makes me wonder what other types of illegal activity are happening in an area where my family, friends and neighbors live and play.

For years the Pilot has published news stories about meth busts and feature stories and columns about the toll the drug is taking on people's lives.

The stories didn't so much offer solutions to the problem as serve to make the community more aware of just how bad things have become.

And they are bad.

Parents and friends of those under meth's evil influence know it. I know it. People in the Curry County court system know it. And law enforcement officers know it.

In a 2005 news story, then Curry County Sheriff Kent Owens said meth is the most popular street drug in our community, and is the driving force behind most of its crime.

Owens said meth is "like pouring battery acid on your brain." Meth users can turn violent quickly, even when they don't plan to.

Meth use also spawns identity theft and various property crimes against innocent people. It is a factor in far too many of the child abuse and neglect cases reported each year in Curry County.

According to the latest statistics (2010), Oregon treats more meth addicts per capita than any other state, and use among teens is rising. Only heroin claimed more lives than meth in Oregon last year.

I think most of the community knows how bad the situation is. But what can we do?

Local authorities readily admit their efforts are stymied, in large part, by the lack of funding for county and state law enforcement agencies, courts and social services that deal with drug offenders

They need the community's help andndash; not in the form of money, but to serve as extra eyes, always on the lookout for potential drug-related activity, including the abuse of children. Suspicious activity can be reported via the Crime Stoppers hotline 541-412-0989 or toll free at 888-974-0000. The business phone number for the Brookings Police Department is 541-469-3118. The Curry County Sheriff's Office number is 541-247-3242.

Signs of meth use:

Meth is extremely addictive and readily available, Educating ourselves about the drug and recognizing the signs of its abuse are crucial to battling this scourge.

Look around. Some of the common signs and symptoms of meth use include:

andbull;Dilated pupils, dark circles or bags under the eyes;

andbull;Increased sensitivity to noise and light;

andbull;Increased level of self confidence and euphoria;

andbull; "Wired" andndash; restless, excitable and anxious;

andbull;Noticeable change in sleeping patterns;

andbull;Weight loss (rapid, extreme);

andbull;Irritability or aggressiveness;

andbull;Drastic mood swings;

andbull;Dizziness or confusion, disconnected chatter;

andbull;Complaints of chest pain, rapid breathing;

andbull;Excessive sweating and body odor;

andbull;Bad breath, poor dental hygiene and tooth grinding;

andbull;Dry, itchy skin;

andbull;Hanging out with a different group of friends;

andbull;Subtle changes in conversations and behavior with friends (coded language, more secretive about possessions or activities);

andbull;Negative change in appearance, greasy hair, skin sores;

andbull;Change in attire, clothes that highlight drug use;

andbull;Noticeable change in values, lying, stealing, etc.;

andbull;Increase in borrowing money or trading of possessions.

If one or two of these signs are present, it does not necessarily mean that someone is using meth, but they are red flags. If we andndash; parents, teachers, friends, coworkers and neighbors andndash; become more aware of meth and its impacts, maybe we can we can save some lives andndash; and our community.