Pubdate: Tue, 27 Sep 2005
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2005 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Peter B. Bensinger
Note: Author is Former administrator, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Chicago -- The Sept. 12 editorial "Battling the meth `epidemic'"
focuses needed public attention on one of America's biggest drug
problems, methamphetamine.

Meth is a powerful, unpredictable stimulant, produced in thousands of
clandestine laboratories throughout the country.

While Chicago's major drug problems are heroin and cocaine, below
Interstate Highway 80 it is a different story.

The scourge of meth has spread from six Western states in 1993 to
almost every state in 2005.

More than 5 percent of our population has used meth. Forty percent of
state and local law enforcement officials identify meth as their
greatest drug threat, surpassing all other illegal drugs.

The number of clandestine labs seized has soared from 7,000 in 2000 to
more than 17,000 in 2003. These labs--in kitchens, trailers, motel
rooms and vehicles--use volatile chemicals, causing more than 500
explosions annually and impacting thousands of innocent children who
are present while their parents cook meth in these makeshift labs.

The method of making meth is dangerous and poses a serious hazard to
anyone near the location--users, first-responders, neighbors,
children. For every pound of meth manufactured, there are five pounds
of toxic waste created, causing severe damage to the

The Tribune commented on Oregon's recent law requiring a doctor's
prescription for Claritin-D or pseudoephedrine products as perhaps
overly burdensome. Maybe not. Meth is made from the diversion of
pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestion ingredient found in many
over-the-counter cold products. Recently several manufacturers of
decongestant pills have announced plans to reformulate their products
using phenylephrine as a nasal decongestant already approved as safe
and effective by the Food and Drug Administration.

Putting pseudoephedrine behind the pharmacy counter has already saved
lives. In Oklahoma there were more than 1,000 clandestine labs seized
in 2003. Last year in Oklahoma, when pseudoephedrine medications were
only available from behind the pharmacy counter, clandestine meth lab
seizures decreased by more than 70 percent.

Controlling drug abuse is a complex problem. To do so effectively
requires cooperation among the pharmaceutical industry, retailers,
consumers, regulators, legislators and law enforcement. To address
this problem, we need to reduce availability of products containing
the key meth precursor--pseudoephedrine--by putting it behind the
pharmacy counter, promote the use of other decongestant products that
cannot be converted into meth, increase awareness of the hazards of
meth use and not abandon concern on other drug problems and the need
for treatment for those addicted.

Peter B. Bensinger

Former administrator, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 1976-1981
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin