A dangerous new trend in illicit drugs has hit the streets: candy-flavored methamphetamine. Meth has been given a makeover. And it's being marketed to young people. New techniques for cooking meth can make it taste like strawberry, chocolate or Coca-Cola. But what hasn't changed is the drug's potent effect. This new trend must be stopped in its tracks.

That's why I've introduced legislation to crack down on drug dealers who entice children with candy-flavored meth and other flavored drugs. Since the beginning of the year, reports of candy-flavored meth have emerged across the country.

For example, one young person admitted to a drug treatment center in California said he was unaware he had been using methamphetamine. He thought he was using a solidified form of a popular energy drink. But what he was using was much more dangerous: candy meth.

Law-enforcement officers and drug-treatment specialists are encountering meth and other illegal drugs that have been colored, packaged and flavored in ways designed to attract children and minors.

'Strawberry Quick'

Flavored meth -- with child-friendly names such as Strawberry Quick -- is designed to get teenagers and young adults to try it a few times. The flavoring is used to disguise the bitter, chemical taste of methamphetamine. And to inexperienced users, this sweet flavoring may make the drug seem less harmful.

This new trend is all about hooking young people, and we have to stop the practice before it escalates. The legislation I've proposed would increase the federal criminal penalties for anyone who markets candy-flavored drugs to our youth by imposing on them the same enhanced penalties applied to the dealers who distribute other drugs to minors.

We need to send a strong message to the meth cooks and dealers: Don't target our kids. And we have to move fast, because flavored meth has already surfaced in California, and it's quickly moving east.

The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that candy meth has also spread to Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri and Minnesota.

Fight New Trends

We can't let this new trend reverse recent progress in the fight against meth use. The number of teens experimenting with methamphetamine has declined in recent years. The number of people 12 and older who used methamphetamine for the first time dropped by 40 percent in recent years, from 318,000 people in 2004 to 192,000 in 2005.

Last year, we were successful in moving cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the pharmacy counter. Because these common cold medicines are used to manufacture meth, this new law helps decrease the number of meth labs operating in our country.

But many issues remain. We need to reduce demand for this drug by educating key groups about its dangers. We need to find ways to break meth addiction. And we need more funding for enforcement and prosecution, especially in high-activity areas.

And as new trends in methamphetamine surface -- such as candy meth -- we need to move quickly. That's why increasing the federal criminal penalties for meth makers and dealers who target our kids is one step that can be taken right away.

I urge parents of children and teens to take action. And here in Washington, I'll continue working to expand our federal drug penalties so that dealers will think twice before altering illegal drugs to target our kids.

Dianne Feinstein is a U.S. senator representing California.