How to Kill the Meth Monster.
By ROB BOVETT
Image © – Victo Nga
THE latest bad news from the world of methamphetamine is that makers of the drug have perfected a one-pot recipe that enables them to manufacture their highly addictive product while on the move, often in their car.
The materials they need — a two-liter soda bottle, a few cold pills and some household chemicals — are easily obtained and easily discarded, often in a trash bag dumped along the highway.
There is, however, a simple way to end this mobile industry — and, indeed, most methamphetamine production. We’ve tried it in Oregon, and have seen how well it works. Just keep a key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, out of the hands of meth producers.
Pseudoephedrine is a nasal decongestant found in some cold and allergy medicines. In 1976, the Food and Drug Administration allowed it to be sold over the counter, inadvertently letting the genie out of the bottle.
Afterward, the meth epidemic spread across the nation, leaving destroyed lives and families in its wake.
Sales of products containing pseudoephedrine in the United States now amount to nearly $600 million a year. Yet, according to the pharmaceutical industry, only 15 million Americans use the drug to treat their stuffed-up noses, and these people typically buy no more than a package or two ($10 to $20 worth) a year.
Over the years, Congress and state legislatures have passed laws meant to prevent the diversion of pseudoephedrine to meth production. But such efforts have amounted to only temporary Band-Aids.
In 2006, Congress required pseudoephedrine products to be moved behind the counter, set daily and monthly limits on the amount that can be sold to any one customer and required retailers to keep a log of sales. But meth users quickly learned to evade these controls by making purchases in several different stores — a practice known as “smurfing.”
In an effort to avoid having more stringent controls placed on the drug, the pharmaceutical industry is lobbying Congress to require electronic tracking of pseudoephedrine sales, as some states already do. This makes it harder for an individual smurfer to collect large quantities of the drug.
But meth users get around the tracking system by banding together in cooperatives, with each member buying pseudoephedrine products in amounts small enough to evade detection.
These group smurfers then contribute their portion to the pot in exchange for cash or a share of the cooked-up meth. Or, in the West, they feed the “super labs” run by drug trafficking organizations in Central California.
In Kentucky, an electronic tracking law that went into effect in 2008 has had no effect on the number of meth labs there, and only 10 percent of them are found by electronic tracking. The number of police incidents involving meth labs has actually increased by more than 40 percent.
The only effective solution is to put the genie back in the bottle by returning pseudoephedrine to prescription-drug status.
That’s what Oregon did more than four years ago, enabling the state to eliminate smurfing and nearly eradicate meth labs. This is part of the reason that Oregon recently experienced the steepest decline in crime rates in the 50 states.
Earlier this year, Mississippi also passed a law requiring a prescription to get pseudoephedrine. Since July, the number of meth labs in that state has fallen by 65 percent.
In 2009, Mexico, which had been the source of most of the methamphetamine on the streets of the United States, went further, banning pseudoephedrine entirely. The potency of meth from Mexico has since plummeted. This is great news. But now the ball is back in our court.
These pseudoephedrine prescription requirements apply to only 15 pharmaceutical products and their generic equivalents — medicines like Sudafed 12 Hour, Aleve D and Advil Cold and Sinus. Most cold and allergy medicines on store shelves are not affected, because they contain no pseudoephedrine.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has proposed legislation to require prescriptions for products with pseudoephedrine nationwide, and Congress should enact it without delay. American families, too many already devastated by the meth epidemic, deserve no less.
Rob Bovett, the district attorney for Lincoln County, Ore., was the primary author of Oregon’s anti-methamphetamine laws.