Pubdate: Sun, 24 Jul 2005
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2005 Richmond Newspapers Inc.
Author: Robert Weiner
Note: Robert Weiner was spokesman and Director of Public Affairs for 
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy 1995-2001, and 
is a regular guest lecturer at the University of Virginia on national 
drug policy.
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)

Drug Crisis: State Needs Meth Law That Makes Some Sense

Washington -- Methamphetamine has made its way into Virginia. The 
illicit drug, which is easily and cheaply produced by consumer 
products, has spread quickly and created a national crisis. In a 
survey by the National Associa-tion of Counties released this month, 
58 percent of the 500 law-enforcement agencies sur-veyed in 45 states 
cited meth as their greatest drug problem, easily sur-passing all other drugs.

According to the highly respected National Survey on Drug Use and 
Health, in 2003 meth lured 12.3 million Americans aged 12 and older 
to try it. As former U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey has said, 
"Methamphetamine is one of the worst drug menaces ever to threaten 
America, associated with paranoia, stroke, heart attack, and 
permanent brain damage, leaving a trail of crime and death."

Yet Virginia hasn't taken action, nor has Congress as a whole. 
Virginia and the nation need serious legislation to combat the 
growing problem and serious threat of meth. According to the Drug 
Enforcement Administration, there were 61 meth lab seizures in the 
state last year, vs. one in 2000. Yet politicians in the General 
Assembly are dragging their feet on what really needs to be done on the issue.

Last summer's "Meth Watch," created and still in place through the 
Virginia Attorney General's office, is a good first step but does not 
address the crisis. The program asks drug stores and pharmacists to 
participate, on a voluntary basis, to provide video training for 
employees, place posters to reinforce the information from the video 
in workrooms, and report suspicious transactions. This year lawmakers 
agreed to intensify penalties, making it a felony to possess two or 
more ingredients with the intent to make meth, and to make it a crime 
punishable by 10-40 years in jail to make meth with a child under 18 present.

A VOLUNTARY program and stronger penalties for meth production 
after-the-fact frankly dodge the issue of addicts and criminals 
buying so-called cold medicines as ingredients to make 
methamphetamine in home labs.

What state and national legislators must do is mold their legislation 
after Oklahoma's already adopted and proven-effective anti-meth law. 
Last year, after facing the crippling problem, Oklahoma became the 
first state in the nation to restrict the sale of pseudoephedrine -- 
an ingredient found in most over-the-counter cold medicines and a 
main ingredient in meth. The new law requires stores to keep popular 
cold medicines behind the counter, have a pharmacist or technician on 
duty to check buyer's identification, have purchasers sign a log 
book, and submit that information to a statewide database linking 
pharmacies. The law has resulted in an astounding 80-percent 
reduction in meth-lab busts in the state. It's what you'd call a "no-brainer."

In fact, the Oklahoma law has worked so well that dealers and 
producers are flocking to other states to continue their crimes. If 
Virginia doesn't put meth ingredients behind the counter, the exiled 
dealers and producers are going to settle and make their meth here.

Seeing the Oklahoma success, 19 states have already passed 
legislation that follows the blueprint of the Oklahoma law and puts 
ephedrine behind the counter but not Virginia, nor the U.S. Congress 
on a national basis.

DEA AND LOCAL law enforcement wear protective gear, including 
hazardous material suits and breath protection devices, to stop 
burning their lungs during clean-up of the extraordinarily dangerous 
chemicals used in meth labs. We can confront the problem of meth not 
just in the homes where it is made, but in the stores where the 
ingredients are first sold. The provisions of the Oklahoma law dwarf 
the entire "Meth Watch" program, and before the drug spreads like 
wildfire throughout the state, proper action must be taken.

The federal government remains slow to act. Congress is under immense 
pressure from the drug companies and their $96 million in lobbying 
power, selfishly pushing for softening of proposed federal and state 
legislation and pushing for any federal action to supercede tougher 
state laws like Oklahoma's. The drug companies' monetary power -- 
paid for by the sick people of America -- should be used for 
medicinal research and development, not a lobbying campaign to 
disrupt the national interest for further financial gain.

Yet we have to play the cards we are dealt. Virginia can't wait for 
federal action, and time is ticking away as other states pass strict 
anti-meth laws and dealers and producers flock to states with weaker 
laws -- such as Virginia. Meth is in Virginia.
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