Pubdate: Mon, 11 Apr 2005
Source: Decatur Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Decatur Daily
Author: Phillip Rawls, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


MONTGOMERY -- The Alabama Legislature may soon make it more difficult to 
buy your favorite cold medicine.

Former methamphetamine maker Todd Sasser hopes you won't mind the 
inconvenience. He says it's the best thing the Legislature could do to keep 
people from making the same mistakes he did.

Bills are pending in the House and Senate that would require key 
ingredients in methamphetamine -- the non-prescription decongestants 
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- to be put behind the counter in Alabama 
stores. Customers wanting the drugs would have to ask for them and would be 
limited in the amount they could buy.

"That would be wonderful," said Sasser, who now operates a faith-based drug 
rehabilitation program in Opp.

He said methamphetamine -- often called "crystal meth" or "meth" -- has 
reached epidemic proportions in Alabama, and the epidemic won't be stemmed 
until the ingredients become hard to get.

"You can go to Wal-Mart or a country convenience store to make crystal 
meth," he said.

Meth is not like marijuana or cocaine. The drug is not imported, and it is 
not sold through a network of dealers. Ingredients, such as matches, lye, 
and iodine, are purchased locally and they are cooked in people's kitchens 
or garages. The drug is shared by the makers and a few friends.

"There are no kingpins," said Mike O'Dell, district attorney for DeKalb and 
Cherokee counties in northeast Alabama. "We are dealing with mom and pop 
labs. They are all independent folks."

Law enforcement officers in the two counties found 130 meth labs last year 
- -- an average of more than two per week. Meth figured into almost all 
crimes in the counties last year because 90 percent of the people arrested 
for all felonies were meth dependent, O'Dell said.

In Covington County at the southern end of the state, law enforcement 
officers have found 186 labs during the last 41/2 years -- or about one 
every week and a half.

"We got lambasted by methamphetamine," District Attorney Greg Gambril said.

Last year, the Legislature responded to the epidemic by requiring stores to 
place 60 milligram tablets of pseudoephedrine behind the counter or in 
locked display cabinets.

This session, Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, and Rep. Frank McDaniel, 
D-Albertville, want to go farther. They want to require all tablets where 
pseudoephedrine or ephedrine is the sole active ingredient -- such as some 
types of Sudafed -- to be put behind the counter or in locked display cabinets.

After July 1, purchasers would have to show an ID and sign for the purchase.

Tablets where ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is one of several active 
ingredients will either have to be placed behind the counter, in a locked 
case, or kept under constant video surveillance, with the surveillance 
tapes maintained for a month.

Purchases would be limited to two packages.

"If you prevent the meth maker from getting the products or reduce their 
ability to get it, they can't make the drug," Gambril said.

Other states act

Alabama is not alone in considering such legislation. The legislatures in 
Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee have already passed similar 
bills this year.

The Alabama legislation, like most other states, does not regulate liquid 
and gel capsules because meth makers aren't using them.

The Alabama legislation has bipartisan support, with Republican Attorney 
General Troy King saying the time has come for restrictions because meth 
"is ripping apart families. It is killing our people."

The Alabama Retail Association, which normally resists restrictions on 
merchants, is also backing the bills.

Spokeswoman Alison Wingate said the association understands the problems 
caused by meth and has worked with legislators and law enforcement groups 
to develop bills that will allow consumers to treat their colds while 
blocking large purchases by meth makers.

"We're trying to make it harder and slow it down," she said.

Protecting children

In addition to the bill restricting the purchases of decongestants, the 
House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill by Rep. Ron Johnson, 
R-Sylacauga, that would make it a crime to expose a child to a meth lab. 
Simple exposure could bring a sentence of one to 10 years. If the child 
were injured by the meth or by the toxic chemicals that are a byproduct of 
cooking meth, a person could get two to 20 years in prison.

Arkansas and Washington have already passed similar bills.

Currently when Alabama police raid a meth lab and find children present, 
the only option available to prosecutors is to bring child abuse charges. 
"Statutorily, it's very hard to prove," Gambril said.

O'Dell said the legislation is badly needed. "Eighty percent of our foster 
children are coming out of meth lab homes," he said.

Sasser, the former meth maker, estimates that children are exposed to about 
half of the state's meth labs. He bases that estimate on personal experience.

"I had two kids in my house, and I'd make them go to bed at 10 so I could 
cook dope," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom