Pubdate: Thu, 30 Mar 2006
Source: Phoenix New Times (AZ)
Copyright: 2006 New Times, Inc.
Author: Sarah Fenske
Cited: previous articles
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


When it comes to preventing -- and treating -- crystal
meth addiction, Arizona may be getting a clue

It used to be that when they talked about meth, they talked about cold
medicine. Politicians from Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard to
State Representative Tom O'Halleran -- a Sedona Republican and former
cop -- were convinced that if this state could only cut the supply of
the ingredients used to make crystal meth, the demand was sure to drop
as well.

That thinking is changing. The Arizona Legislature is poised to pass a
$17 million anti-meth bill, perhaps as early as this week. The measure
includes millions for drug treatment, millions for a prevention
campaign, and millions to help stop Mexican drug traffickers.

Not a word about cold medicine.

There are two good reasons for that.

First, the federal government has done what the state could not.
Earlier this month, George W. Bush signed into law national
restrictions on the cold medicines often used in home-grown meth labs.

Second, there's an increasing realization that the cold medicine
solution doesn't really get at the heart of Arizona's problem.

The city of Phoenix's new laws on cold medicine went into effect in
December (See New Times' series "The Perfect Drug."

It wasn't long after that the cops noticed an intriguing

The laws were modeled after a plan that had effectively wiped out most
of the meth labs in Oklahoma. They regulated all cold medicines
containing pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient for meth cooks, and the
reason that a host of medicines, from Sudafed to Dimetapp Decongestant
Infant Drops, work so well to treat your cold and allergies.

Under the new laws, all those medications must be kept behind the
counter, available for purchase only after customers sign a special
logbook. Every month, the logbook would be faxed to police.

And, as Phoenix Police Sgt. Don Sherrard explains it, even though the
pages now make a stack eight feet high, they didn't just end up in the
trash . . . or even in a file cabinet somewhere. The cops actually
read them.

And that led them to Anthem.

As the officers pored over the logbook, Sherrard says, they kept
noticing the same name, over and over, and the same Anthem address.

So they went out to investigate.

Now, it might be funny if Anthem, a cookie-cutter enclave northwest of
the city, harbored a coven of tweakers, systematically "cooking" cold
medicine into an illegal drug. It's not hard to imagine cops busting
the place, sending dozens of skinny soccer moms to jail.

But that isn't what happened when the police officers made their trek
up I-17.

Instead, they found a big family that had been racked by the

The members of this family weren't stocking up on pseudoephedrine.
They were buying cold medicine.

"The way the log reads, the amount purchased can be deceiving,"
Sherrard says. "All we see is that the mother's name appeared four or
five times -- what it doesn't tell you is that she's buying Children's

(And if mom had wanted to make meth, five boxes of Children's Tylenol
was hardly going to do the trick.)

Needless to say, Sherrard says dryly, "we closed that

Sherrard says he thinks the city restrictions were worth doing: "If we
can stop just one meth lab, it's worth it."

But he's more than willing to admit that, for Phoenix, the law's
effect has likely been minimal. Other than that mom in Anthem and, as
it turned out, two other people purchasing large but legal quantities,
Sherrard says the logbook has provided few leads.

That might indicate that addicts have suddenly stopped cooking meth
here, and stopped using. But, as Sherrard is quick to point out, the
number of meth lab busts plummeted long before December's

Years ago, most Arizona addicts made the switch from home-grown labs
to purchasing cheaper, more potent meth from Mexican dealers.

"It's just economics," Sherrard says.

That's something the city of Phoenix's meth task force now seems to
realize. The group convened last August with one focus: cold medicine.

When they finally met again March 8, though, members talked about
treatment. And prevention.

Christina Dye, clinical services division chief for the Arizona
Department of Health Services, hit home the real problem: The number
of people seeking meth treatment from state agencies has been rising
steadily since 2002.

Twenty-eight percent of the people seeking drug treatment in Maricopa
County are addicted to meth.

"The largest number of people affected by this drug are in Phoenix,
and are in Maricopa County," she said.

In the last year, the Arizona Republic's editorial board penned no
fewer than eight editorials calling for tougher statewide restrictions
on cold medicine.

The idea was being pushed by Attorney General Goddard, who noted
Arizona's large number of meth addicts -- and the success of similar
restrictions in Oklahoma. When the Legislature rebuffed Goddard last
year, he barnstormed the state, eventually convincing 28 cities to
pass laws of their own. And when he announced that he'd be running for
reelection earlier this month, Goddard put a statewide pseudoephedrine
law at the top of his agenda.

But what he never mentioned -- and what the Republic has yet to report
- -- is that, on the very day Goddard kicked off his campaign, Congress
made such a law entirely redundant.

The reason? A little thing called the Patriot Act.

That act, the bane of civil libertarians everywhere, includes a set of
provisions regulating pseudoephedrine.

Like Phoenix's laws, it sets the purchase limit at nine grams per
customer, per month.

It requires medications with that ingredient to be kept behind the

And, it requires that customers sign a logbook.

Oddly enough, the Arizona House of Representatives voted 43-14 to
approve statewide pseudoephedrine restrictions, with almost identical
components, on the very day that President George W. Bush signed the
Patriot Act into law. (The state Senate has since assigned the bill to
several committees.)

Fortunately, the Legislature has chosen to fast-track a different meth
bill -- one with a much broader goal.

The bill doesn't just focus on cutting off the supply. It aims to
reduce demand.

As of press time, the bill calls for $17 million of funding designed
to stop meth abuse. That's $6 million for treatment services, $6
million to help the Department of Public Safety stop the flow of meth
from Mexico, and $5 million for a Department of Health Services
campaign targeted at kids, modeled on the department's wildly
successful anti-smoking initiative.

The bill, sponsored by State Representative Mark Anderson, R-Mesa,
passed the House with a 41-8 margin earlier this month, just two weeks
after Anderson proposed it. The Senate could approve it as early as
this week, sending it in near-record time to Governor Janet
Napolitano, who is said to be a supporter.

At least one senator, Anderson says, has questioned why the bill can't
wait for the next budget.

"We explained that it was high priority, and it's being fast-tracked,"
he says. "The scope of the problem has reached the point where,
without exception, everybody is aware of how serious it is -- and that
we need to do something significant." 
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