Pubdate: Sun, 10 Jul 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Last week a N.C. House Judiciary subcommittee took up a bill to 
restrict the sale of over-the-counter drugs that contain 
pseudoephedrine. It's a decongestant that is also a main ingredient 
in the illegal drug methamphetamine.

The state Senate passed a version of the bill that would put all 
tablets containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed and Claritin, 
behind the pharmacist's counter, would require customers to show 
photo identification to buy them and would restrict purchases to nine 
grams a month without a prescription.

It seems five of the seven members of the House subcommittee are 
leaning toward a weaker version of the Senate bill. The version they 
favor would affect fewer products, would allow them to be sold from 
behind the counter by store clerks and would limit customers to nine 
grams a purchase but would not limit the number of purchases a 
customer could make.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and sheriffs and district attorneys 
around the state support the stricter Senate version. Pharmaceutical 
companies and the N.C. Retail Merchants Association support a weaker 
alternate version.

Here are some things our House lawmakers should know about meth:

Meth is a highly addictive drug that leads to psychotic or violent 
behavior and to brain damage.

It is manufactured from chemicals that are readily available.

Law enforcement officers in North Carolina busted 243 meth labs in 
2004, up from nine in 1999, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration statistics. About two-thirds of those labs were 
located in Western North Carolina. Rural areas are favored because 
there's less chance of detecting the pungent, ammonia smell that 
comes from making meth. (A bust in Catawba County last week was the 
203rd this year in the state, and the year is just half over.)

Most of these were "mom and pop" operations, where users were making 
the drug for themselves and selling whatever was left to foot the bill.

Children were found living on the premises where about 25 percent of 
these labs operated. In Buncombe County, 14 children were found in 
the 23 labs busted during 2004. Meth is released as it cooks, 
sticking to the floor and sides of walls, leading to direct exposure 
for children.

Mary May, a guardian ad litem coordinator in Western North Carolina, 
told a Citizen-Times reporter that about 95 percent of the cases she 
sees involve meth. Most of the older children from meth cases are 
fidgety and have attention deficit disorder or attention 
deficit/hyperactivity disorder, she said. They have psychotic 
episodes and a lot of respiratory problems.

Babies and younger children often have sensory problems and don't 
like to be touched or held. They have trouble with loud noises and 
their eyes are very light-sensitive. "The kids are the saddest part 
of methamphetamine," May said. "We just don't know what their future will be."

Dr. Cindy Brown, a forensic pediatrician and child maltreatment 
specialist at Mission Children's Clinic in Asheville, said she has 
most often seen children with burns from meth lab operations.

Meth is cheap to produce. To produce a pound of the drug, the 
manufacturer produces five to seven pounds of toxic leftovers that 
require decontamination of the premises where it is produced. In 
other words, meth labs are hazardous waste sites that can cost up to 
$20,000 - with taxpayers footing the bill - to clean up.

Since enacting legislation similar to the bill approved by the N.C. 
Senate by a 45-2 vote, Oklahoma has seen an 80 percent drop in meth production.

Oklahoma's Narcotics Bureau director told North Carolina lawmakers 
that in his opinion, even the death penalty for making methaphetamine 
might not have slowed Oklahoma's meth crisis, which was one of the 
worst in the nation.

"I'm thoroughly convinced that stiffer penalties will not curb this 
addiction," he said. "We came to the conclusion that as long as 
pseudoephedrine was readily available, there was no end in sight."

If you're suffering from a nasty head cold and want quick relief, the 
Senate bill might pose a bit of an inconvenience for you, but gel and 
liquid forms of drugs containing pseudoephedrine won't be affected by 
the law, so relief could still be had.

Given the destruction of lives, the harm to vulnerable children, the 
social and monetary costs to society that result from the production 
of methamphetamine, it's hard to understand why anyone would oppose 
restricting the sale of drugs containing pseudoephedrine if that 
would curb the epidemic.

It leads one to wonder if lawmakers who oppose restricting the drug 
care more about potential campaign contributions from business 
interests or about the well-being of their constituents, especially 
the children whose lives are being ruined by methamphetamine.
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