Pubdate: Fri, 23 Mar 2018
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2018 The Tribune Co.


While opioids hold center stage in the nation's drug war,
methamphetamine is making a destructive comeback. Though meth has
largely fallen off the public's radar, seizures and arrests are up,
and more people are dying from the drug. Its evolution is a reminder
of the durability of the illegal drug supply, the impermanence of any
single enforcement tactic and the need for a comprehensive approach to
fighting and treating addiction.

Potent, addictive and deadly, meth bears many of the pernicious traits
of opioids. It became popular in the early 2000s, easily produced in
small batches using the decongestant in over-the-counter cold
medicine. In rural parts of Tampa Bay, especially eastern Hillsborough
and Pasco counties and throughout Polk County, exploding "meth labs"
routinely drew law enforcement's attention. Congress responded in 2005
with a law putting pseudoephedrine behind the counter, limiting the
amount individuals could purchase and creating a tracking system
pharmacies were required to use. Meth became much harder to make and
faded from notice, overtaken by a new drug of choice: opioids.

The opioid story is now sadly familiar. Pharmaceutical companies
flooded the market with potent pain pills like oxycodone, which drug
addicts used to get high. The demand gave rise to "pill mills" that
churned out bottles full of the drugs with few questions asked. The
state cracked down, the pill mills were shuttered and the supply dried
up. But any void in the drug supply inevitably gets filled. Foreign
drug cartels met the demand with heroin, a natural opiate, and
fentanyl, a newer and more deadly synthetic. Opioid overdoses are now
the leading killer of Americans under 50, a harrowing trend few saw
coming just a decade after Florida's pill mill crackdown.

There is an ominous parallel to the trend with methamphetamine.
Instead of coming from mobile homes outside Dade City, meth is now
being shipped across the border in vast quantities by Mexican cartels.
It is more purified and more potent than the old home-cooked product.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seizures of meth have
increased more than tenfold in some states over the last decade.
Locally, Pasco authorities arrested more people last year on meth
charges than any other drug besides marijuana, according to a recent
report by the Tampa Bay Times' TyLisa C. Johnson. The Florida
Department of Law Enforcement reported 327 deaths caused by
methamphetamines in 2016, up from 156 in 2015 and 88 in 2014. The
numbers remain small compared to the toll of opioids, which killed
5,725 people in Florida in 2016, but they are going in the wrong direction.

Slowing those trends -- and saving more lives -- takes a holistic
approach, and there is still a lack of sophisticated leadership. U.S.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who visited Tallahassee last week,
incorrectly links the opioid epidemic to violent crime and gangs and
suggests people in pain should just take an aspirin. Gov. Rick Scott
has signed into law a $53 million enhanced effort to fight opioids
through more treatment and prevention -- a start, but not enough --
and requirements to limit prescriptions to a three-day supply for
acute pain and up to seven days for medical reasons, plus exemptions
for patients suffering from cancer, terminal illness, palliative care
or serious traumatic injuries. But cutting off pill supplies without
even greater efforts to tackle the demand side is how Florida ended up
back in the opioid fight. Combatting addiction must be a primary
focus, as the morbid resurgence of meth has shown.
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