Even after tough new laws and ramped-up enforcement, the highly addictive, potentially deadly drug methamphetamine is as plentiful as ever. Last year, the state had 756 meth incidents recorded by law enforcement. Compare that to 2005, a year when the proliferation of meth startled legislators enough that they passed laws restricting access to the cold medication used in the drug’s production.
That year, the state had 451 methamphetamine incidents. Kalamazoo and Allegan counties have been among the hardest hit.
We’re going in the wrong direction in a battle against a drug that cuts a broad swath of destruction, robbing people of their lives, devastating families — especially children — and polluting the environment with meth-making chemicals.
With federal money to fight the drug drying up, other measures are necessary. Helpful would be a law requiring that the cold medications that are a necessary meth ingredient be obtained by prescription only. Lawmakers should pass that legislation.
Michigan’s 2005 law required that over-the-counter sales of psuedoephedrine, a chemical found in decongestants and cough syrups, be limited. The state law requires that the medicines be kept behind the pharmacy counter or that those buying the medications sign a log book. Federal law tracks and limits psuedoephedrine imports.
Meth manufacturers, however, have skirted these regulations by hiring people to buy cold medications for them. A case recently moved through Grand Rapids federal court involving a man who paid homeless people to buy the medication to manufacture meth. Mark Douglas Thomas Jr. drove homeless people to West Michigan pharmacies, paying them $2.50 a box for cold tablets.
Putting tougher restrictions on psuedoephedrine has worked elsewhere. Oregon instituted a prescriptions-only law. Meth incidents dropped from 467 in 2004 to just 12 in 2009. Mississippi saw meth incidents drop nearly 70 percent after that state instituted a prescription law.
Such a law would be a major inconvenience for some people. However, it would be worth it when weighed against the societal costs of meth production and addiction. Treatment averages $130,000 per patient. Burns incurred in meth manufacturing can run medical bills many times higher. Federal money for cleaning up dirty meth manufacturing sites has disappeared, leaving cash-poor local communities to bear the cost.
Losing the meth wars is having dramatic consequences. Winning will require more effective weapons. Putting more restrictions on methamphetamine has helped curb meth in other states. Michigan should try it, too.