HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html States Battling Meth May Put Controls on Cold Pills
Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jan 2005
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  http://www.latimes.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/248
Author: Stephanie Simon, Times Staff Writer
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/meth.htm (Methamphetamine)

STATES BATTLING METH MAY PUT CONTROLS ON COLD PILLS

ST. LOUIS -- Over-the-counter cold pills may be removed from store
shelves across much of the Southwest and Midwest this year as
officials struggle to crack down on methamphetamine, a highly
addictive stimulant that can be brewed from decongestants and other
common household items.

At least 20 states are considering tight restrictions on access to
Sudafed, NyQuil, Claritin-D, Tylenol Flu and hundreds of other cold,
allergy and sinus remedies that contain pseudoephedrine.

Details vary, but in many states only pharmacists or their assistants
would be allowed to dispense the medicines.

Customers would have to show identification -- and even enter their
addresses in a law enforcement database. Some states may also restrict
purchases to as few as two to three boxes a month.

In most cases, the controls would apply only to pseudoephedrine
tablets; gel caps and liquid formulas are generally exempt because
it's much harder to convert them to illegal drugs.

The pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes the proposed
restrictions, arguing that they would inconvenience legitimate
customers, especially in rural areas, where the nearest pharmacy may
be 40 miles away and open only on weekdays. The trade association
representing chain drugstores also plans to lobby against the
legislative action. So do some convenience store owners.

Despite this opposition, lawmakers in state after state say they are
confident that the measures will pass with broad bipartisan support.
Two Republican and two Democratic governors have promised to press for
the restrictions.

"I absolutely have high hopes we'll get it done," said Minnesota state
Sen. Julie Rosen.

In southwest Iowa, Sheriff Terry Baxter needs more than
hope.

"We have to do something," Baxter said. "Meth is just taking
over."

Also called crank, crystal, speed and ice, methamphetamine comes in
many forms: It can look like rock salt or chalk dust. It can be amber,
white or translucent, even red or brown. Users inject, snort, smoke or
swallow it.

The stimulant produces an exhilarating rush. Within a few hours,
though, it wears off, inducing deep depression and paranoia, leaving
users frantic for another hit. Addicts often ride speed highs for
days, not pausing to sleep or eat.

Meth can cost as much as powder cocaine; prices nationally range from
$80 to $250 for a .06-ounce bag, according to the U.S. Department of
Justice. But it's also a do-it-yourself drug, easy to make in a
bathtub from one of more than 100 recipes.

It's popular among women -- who sometimes try it because they've heard
it will keep them thin -- and among young adults. A federal survey in
2003 found that half of recent users were younger than 18.

As much as 80% of the methamphetamine available in the U.S. comes from
organized crime rings cooking up huge quantities of the drug in
California or across the border in Mexico. Restrictions on sales of
Sudafed would do little to stop them.

The controls are aimed, instead, at meth brewed in small makeshift
labs, primarily in the Midwest.

Using chemicals extracted from decongestants, rubbing alcohol, starter
fluid, drain cleaner, lithium batteries, matches and paint thinner,
the drug is routinely made in cornfields and hotel rooms, in roadside
ditches, in suburban estates and in national forests.

The addicts who run the labs are not big-time drug dealers. They make
just enough to keep themselves and maybe a few friends high.

Even so, they've left a devastating trail.

Rural states such as Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma are pocked
with thousands -- some officials say tens of thousands -- of illegal
labs.

Explosions are common. The gases emitted in the cooking process are so
toxic that the fumes can corrode metal -- and scar lungs. The waste
produced is so hazardous that cleanup crews must wear full protective
suits.

Tracking down the labs consumes enormous resources: In Missouri,
detectives raided an average of nearly eight labs a day in 2003. It
costs thousands of dollars to clean up a single site.

Officials see a tremendous social cost too; they frequently find young
children breathing the toxic fumes, abandoned without food in filthy
cribs as their parents cook up their next hit.

In Oregon over the last two years, virtually every case where the
state permanently took children away from their parents involved meth.

Several states have tried to shut down labs by restricting how many
decongestants a shopper can buy in any one purchase. (In California,
the limit is three packages, or nine grams of pseudoephedrine.) Some
chain stores, including Wal-Mart, voluntarily limit
transactions.

But meth cooks can easily -- and legally -- evade such restrictions by
driving from store to store to store to pick up the thousands of pills
they need to make a few ounces of stimulant. One suspect arrested in
southwest Missouri carried a hand-drawn map of every store in the area
that sold cold pills.

A few states considered tougher restrictions on pseudoephedrine last
year. Just one -- Oklahoma -- adopted them.

The Oklahoma law classified pseudoephedrine as a Schedule 5 narcotic,
similar to cough syrup with codeine, to be dispensed only by a
pharmacist. Since it took effect last spring, law enforcement has
reported a huge drop in meth labs. By the fall, raids were down 80%,
said John Duncan, chief agent with the state's Bureau of Narcotics and
Dangerous Drugs.

Duncan expects that number to drop even more as pharmacists bring
online a new computer program to track every purchase of cold pills.
The program will flash an alert if a customer has tried to buy
decongestants from any other store in the state in recent weeks.

"Right there on the computer screen, it will authorize or deny each
purchase," Duncan said.

Mike, a former addict from Omaha, said he was skeptical that such
restrictions would work long-term.

A member of Crystal Meth Anonymous, Mike, 36, said he used to buy as
many as 10,000 cold pills a day to brew meth. "If I had to strong-arm
a drugstore to get the pills, I probably would have," he said.

Strung-out meth addicts can be fiercely aggressive; many law
enforcement agencies consider the drug the primary reason for violent
crime in their regions. Mike said he feared the violence would rise if
addicts couldn't legally buy what they need to cook up a hit.

"Addicts will do pretty much anything to get what they need," he
said.

But officials across the country, facing an epidemic of meth abuse,
seem willing to take the risk, especially now that they've seen the
"tremendous results" Oklahoma's law has produced, said Iowa's director
of drug control policy, Marvin Van Haaften.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski enacted restrictions similar to those in
Oklahoma this fall. In states as diverse as Idaho, Alabama, Texas and
Minnesota, lawmakers are working on proposed legislation.

"The train's on the tracks and it's starting to roll," said Cpl. Jason
Grellner, a detective with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department in
rural Missouri. He recently held an anti-meth strategy session; it
drew officials from 14 states.

"We've all decided that this is the year," Grellner said.

A spokesman for Pfizer Inc., which makes Sudafed, said the company
would not fight the proposed laws.

But other powerful opponents stand ready to make their
case.

Mary Ann Wagner, a vice president of the National Assn. of Chain Drug
Stores, attributes the apparent drop in Oklahoma meth labs to better
law enforcement -- in particular, efforts to deny bail to suspected
addicts and dealers. She decried the "unnecessary burdens" of new
controls on decongestants.

Virginia Cox, a vice president of the Consumer Healthcare Products
Assn., said states should focus primarily on reducing demand for meth
by preventing and treating addiction. Her group also promotes a "Meth
Watch" program that teaches retailers how the drug is made and urges
them to report suspicious purchases.

"We really feel there are alternatives out there" to locking up
decongestants, Cox said.

The federal drug czar, John P. Walters, also urged caution.

He pointed out that Oklahoma was not the only state to report a big
drop in meth lab raids. A dozen others also had "substantial declines"
last year, he said.

"There is promise in [tight controls], and if states want to do it,
they're free to do it," said Walters, director of the Office of
National Drug Control Policy. "But we're trying to make sure we're not
blinded by Oklahoma's results to the point where we say this is it,
nothing else works."

Baxter, the Iowa sheriff, knows locking up decongestants won't put an
end to the meth epidemic. Already, new recipes are circulating among
meth cooks -- recipes that don't require pseudoephedrine. Still, he
figures it's worth a try.

"Am I going to get this stopped? No," Baxter said. "But I'm going to
make it as damned hard to cook this stuff as I possibly can."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake