HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Federal Meth Bill Could Preempt State Law
Pubdate: Sun, 24 Jul 2005
Source: Greensboro News & Record (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Greensboro News & Record, Inc.
Author: Mark Binker, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


RALEIGH -- State leaders are worried that a pending North Carolina law
designed to stop the spread of methamphetamine abuse could be thwarted
by pending federal legislation on the same topic.

Weaker or inflexible federal standards, they say, could end up
blunting anti-methamphetamine rules the General Assembly is drafting.

"Different states have different problems when it comes to fighting
methamphetamine, just as we do with any other crime," N.C. Attorney
General Roy Cooper said. "States should have the ability to react to
their own particular problems."

Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant,
providing a high and allowing users to stay awake for prolonged
periods. The side effects are severe and include violent, psychotic
behavior and permanent damage to the heart and nervous system.

Police frequently measure the spread of the problem by the number of
illegal methamphetamine labs they find and destroy.

In 1999, only nine such labs were found in North Carolina. In 2004,
that number was up to 322. And through July 20 of this year, 216 labs
had been found and destroyed.

Guilford County and the Piedmont Triad have not seen such a dramatic
rise. Only a handful of labs have been found and destroyed here in the
past two years.

"One arrest is too many, but it's relative for us," said Guilford
County District Attorney Stuart Albright.

"It's not the epidemic like it is in some of the more rural counties
in the western part of the state."

Officials in McDowell County, for example, shut down 49
methamphetamine labs during the first half of this year, compared with
just one in Guilford County.

But Albright cautioned that methamphetamine use has spread from west
to east across the United States.

"Tomorrow may be a different story for us," he said.

To stop the spread of methamphetamine, the state is considering rules
that could affect anyone who has the sniffles.

Pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine, can be found in
a variety of cold medicines, particularly tablets such as those sold
under the Sudafed and Sinutab brand names.

Pending state legislation would restrict the sale of those medicines,
allowing individuals to buy only enough for personal use and requiring
stores to keep a log of who purchases the tablets.

Under the more strict version of the bill being considered, medicines
containing pseudoephedrine would have to be kept behind a pharmacy
counter, rather than just a checkout counter such as at a convenience

Oklahoma and Tennessee have enacted similar laws and have seen
methamphetamine production drop as much as 80 percent. Oregon is
contemplating a law that would require a prescription for those sorts
of cold medicines.

But advocates for retail stores are calling for looser controls,
saying that preventing the spread of methamphetamine must be balanced
with consumers' need for such medicines.

"Some counties don't even have a pharmacy in them," said Andy Ellen, a
lawyer with the N.C. Retail Merchants Association.

The methamphetamine debate is not confined to the state

Congress is considering federal legislation to combat the spread of
methamphetamine, partly at the urging of national retail chains that
worry about having to comply with 50 different sets of regulations
across the United States.

"That makes all the sense in the world," Ellen said. "That way,
everyone knows what the rules of the game are."

But state officials worry that a federal drug law would prevent them
from enacting tougher regulations than the national standard.

"I would hope that they would have a very strict approach," state Sen.
Walter Dalton, a Rutherfordton Democrat, said of the federal rules.

Federal rules could be useful for states, he suggested, perhaps doing
more to restrict the sale of cold medicine via the Internet than
states could do on their own.

But Dalton, who helped write the statewide rules now being considered,
said it would still be better for states to maintain flexibility in
dealing with the problem.

For example, states might find that a medicine or other potential
ingredient not on the list of drugs controlled by the federal law had
become useful for methamphetamine makers.

"It's clear that the state can react much more quickly to the problem
than the federal government," Cooper said.

Concerns such as Cooper's won the day in Washington this past week,
temporarily stalling a final debate and vote on the federal
methamphetamine bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee staffers say a debate and vote on that bill is expected this
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