Pubdate: Mon, 06 Feb 2006
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Section: Metro
Copyright: 2006 The Daily Iowan
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


A law restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine is saving money for 
Iowa City area agencies, but it has not eliminated the widespread use 
of methamphetamine in the state, local officials said.

The savings are a result of a reduction in home labs that produce 
meth from pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestant. These labs use 
caustic, inflammable chemicals that are expensive to clean up and 
have caused explosions and severe burns to people who use them 
improperly. But since the law took effect, that has become a less 
common occurrence.

"We have had no documented cases of methamphetamine-related burns 
since then," said G. Patrick Kealey, the medical director of the UI 
Hospitals and Clinics burn-treatment center. "What that means is the 
effect upon the hospital and finances is enormous."

The hospital and, subsequently, the taxpayers, have had to absorb as 
much as $2.8 million worth of services for methamphetamine cookers in 
a given year, he said, a number expected to drop off now that large 
quantities of pseudoephedrine are harder to come by.

Explosions during the drug's production often resulted in burns that 
covered roughly one quarter of a person's body, requiring her or him 
to have skin grafts and rehabilitation, Kealey said.

Bridget Burke, the principal researcher with the UIHC burn unit, said 
it can cost up to $2,500 a day for a bed in her department.

Other costs include detoxifying the person and dealing with drug 
abuse itself. Most of the people who have survived a meth-lab 
explosion do not have insurance.

The Office of Drug Control Policy noted a drop of meth-lab incidents 
in Johnson County from 34 in 2004 to nine in 2005, according to a 
January briefing for Iowa legislators.

Statewide, lab finds fell from an average of 119 a month before the 
law, to 20 a month after.

The reduction in meth labs has also freed up $2 million for law 
enforcement statewide, according to the same agency.

Labs can cost thousands of dollars to clean, depending on the size, 
Coralville police Detective Bill Clarahan said in September. To do it 
fully, cleaners have to remove all carpeting, bedding, curtains, and 
anything else exposed to the dangerous chemicals.

The Johnson County Drug Task Force will use money saved from lab 
cleanups for more controlled buys, he said.

"Even though meth labs have gone down, it hasn't really solved the 
meth problem," Clarahan said. "It's making it harder, but it's not 
going to go away anytime soon."

Iowa drug-policy coordinator Marvin Van Haaften said enforcement is 
shifting to imported meth, often in the purer form of crystal meth or 
"ice," in a January report to lawmakers.

As medical director of trauma, burns, and critical-care services, 
Kealey oversees the department in control of toxicity screens. He 
agreed meth use persists and said it is the No. 1 illicit drug 
involved in accidents.

A survey of hospital emergency rooms conducted by the National 
Association of Counties reported in January that 47 percent of 200 
responding hospitals - including 17 institutions in Iowa - said 
methamphetamine is the top illegal drug observed.

Kealey said he saw the first case about 10 years ago, and he has 
since seen the drug gain popularity.

"It's the gift that keeps on giving," he said bitterly. "It keeps on 
keeping on."

DI Metro Editor Drew Kerr contributed to this report.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman