What to do about Meth Labs?

November 10th, 2009 | Sources: Wall Street Journal


A recent spike in illegal methamphetamine use and an associated proliferation of meth labs has prompted lawmakers to consider implementing a home-grown version of an Oregon law requiring that people who wish to purchase certain cold remedies must have a doctor’s prescription.

MethMakerMeth labs use pseudoephedrine—an ingredient in many cold elixirs—to make the highly addictive stimulant.

Federal laws enacted 4 years ago limit the amount of pseudoephedrine-containing compounds that a person can purchase per month and per store visit. They also require pharmacies to track and report such purchases and to keep the drugs behind counters or in locked cabinets.

These laws cut meth utilization for 2 years, but meth producers have learned to circumvent them by deploying groups of people to purchase their limit and pooling the stash. And the number of meth labs nationwide has jumped from 3,000 in 2007 to 3,600 in 2008, authorities claim.

The same year that the Federal law went into effect, Oregon passed one of its own requiring a doctor’s prescription for drugs containing pseudoephedrine. Since then, meth-related arrests have dropped 43% and meth labs have nearly vanished in the state.

Those results prompted two cities in Missouri, Washington and Union, to pass ordinances modeled after Oregon’s law.

“To me, [what Oregon did] is the answer,” Richard Stratman, Washington’s mayor told the Wall Street Journal. “If you can tie up the pseudoephedrine and make it difficult to obtain, you can get the job maybe not completely done, but you can put a pretty good dent in those labs.”

More recently, lawmakers in Missouri and California introduced similar legislation and nationally, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is planning to do the same later this year.

Companies that produce the cold remedies aren’t too keen on the proposals. The laws would “put a great burden not only on consumers but on the health-care system as well,” said Andrew Fish, who is the general counsel for a trade group representing the drug makers.


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