Pubdate: Thu, 31 Mar 2005
Source: Huntsville Times (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Huntsville Times
Author: Wendy Reeves
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Law Enforcement Urges Retailers To Take Lead In Curbing Spread Of Drug

To many, they're a small and inexpensive remedy for allergies or a

But those cold tablets are the equivalent of gold for people who cook

That's why drug agents and the county public health officer spent
three hours Wednesday with about 45 retailers and residents for the
"Merchants Against Meth" forum sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug
Free Community. The forum was held at the SAIC Conference Facility in
Research Park.

"We're not asking for your help," said Rocky Harnen, investigator with
the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. "We're begging for it."

Agents found between 30 and 40 meth labs in the Huntsville area last

"Although it's a significant problem here, it's still not huge and we
don't want it to be," Harnen said. He worked in California in the late
1980s when meth was at its height there. "Believe me, we don't want it
to be."

Harnen said that's why drug investigators work with the partnership
and do informative talks on meth for schools, churches or anyone who
wants to learn more about the drug and ways to help keep it from
taking over the area.

Merchants are a crucial element in curbing the problem, he

"We don't have time to sit there and watch the doors of every store,
so we need your eyes and ears because it's not hard to buy this
stuff," Harnen said.

The stuff he's talking about are the ingredients used to whip up
batches of the highly addictive drug. On the list are table salt,
matches, drain cleaner and hydrogen peroxide. The key ingredient,
however, is the pseudoephedrine found in most cold and allergy pills.
Pseudoephedrine converts into methamphetamine during a dangerous
cooking process, he said.

Harnen compared pseudoephedrine and meth production to the coca bush
and making cocaine.

"Without a poppy plant, you can't have opium," he said.

Many stores limit the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be purchased
at one time. Target is one of those stores, said Marilyn Irons, assets
protection manager.

In surveillance video provided by Target, investigators point out
people who were arrested for buying or trying to steal cold tablets.

First, there are a man and two women who head straight to the cold
medicine aisle. Then, the people seem nervous as they approach the
registers. Some can't seem to decide which one to choose and, when one
is finally chosen, the buyers are fidgety and constantly looking around.

Dan Howell, a loss prevention investigator for Home Depot, was shocked
that he recognized the three people in the Target video. They've been
in his store several times, he said.

He and Jeff Partin, district loss prevention manager for Home Depot,
said they learned a lot at Wednesday's meeting.

"We'll use what we learned here to raise awareness in our stores,"
Partin said. "What amazes me is that these people are intelligent
enough to do this and to think about what kind of good things they
could be doing if they applied it in another area."

Deborah Soule, director of the partnership, said the next step is
setting up a merchants coalition to help businesses come up with
policies and procedures for training their employees, as well as
working on state laws designed to help fight the problem.

"We've already got several commitments today for participation," she
said. "We're not going to give up."
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