Is that a meth lab in your pants?
By Jon Sanders
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So last week in Oklahoma at a traffic stop, police noticed a chemical smell, a passenger took off running, and in the scuffle with police, the portable meth lab stuffed down his pants exploded. What does that have to do with laws preventing allergy sufferers from being able to access pseudoephedrine? Read on, Lizzy.
Oklahoma already has in place several restrictions on pseudoephedrine (which is a key ingredient in some methods of making methamphetamine): monthly and annual purchasing limits and a requirement to show state-issued IDs before purchase. Nevertheless, Oklahoma police are still busting meth labs by the hundreds. Oklahoma lawmakers think the problem is that laws preventing access to pseudoephedrine aren't strong enough and have just sent the "toughest in the nation" anti-pseudoephedrine bill to the governor.
North Carolina also has a proxy war against meth via war on pseudoephedrine. A new law took effect this year that requires electronic tracking of all pseudoephedrine sales. Barely a week after the system got going, the state was congratulating itself for stopping over 1,600 sales. That's after saying the program had been working even before it began.
How is the program's effectiveness measured? By counting up everyone who is prevented from purchasing pseudoephedrine products. Oh -- it goes without question that all those turned away were planning to use the stuff in meth labs, not to alleviate cold and allergy symptoms in a state known for its many allergy seasons.
Problem is, laws waging a proxy war against the meth trade haven't worked. All they have done instead is
- Put cold and allergy sufferers under criminal suspicion
- Made it much more difficult for them to alleviate their symptoms
- Further enriched Mexican narcotics labs
- Pushed meth users into new and ever more dangerous manners of producing meth
Items 1 and 2 and obvious on their face. For Item 3, I refer you to, e.g., Time Magazine's article of June 28, 2010, entitled "Mexico's Meth Warriors," EverythingAddiction.com's discussion of same (see especially under the subhead "Mexico picks up the slack in the US meth trade"), and A. Barton Hinkle's column last October in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Got the sniffles? You must be a drug pusher."
For Item 4, I refer you to Jacob Sullum's warning and insight from January 2005 (emphasis added):
In October, just after Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski proposed retail-level restrictions on pseudoephedrine, The Oregonian ran a five-part series arguing that tracking sales by foreign manufacturers of the chemical is the only way to seriously curtail the methamphetamine trade. The newspaper cited brief declines in methamphetamine purity that followed previous attempts to block access to precursors. Such effects are short-lived, it said, because traffickers find new sources or shift to alternative production methods. After the precursor phenyl-2-propanone was restricted in 1980, traffickers switched to ephedrine; when large quantities of ephedrine became harder to come by in the late '90s, they switched to pseudoephedrine.
And now with pseudoephedrine being restricted? Consider this AP story from January:
A crude new method of making methamphetamine poses a risk even to Americans who never get anywhere near the drug: It is filling hospitals with thousands of uninsured burn patients requiring millions of dollars in advanced treatment - a burden so costly that it's contributing to the closure of some burn units.
So-called shake-and-bake meth is produced by combining raw, unstable ingredients in a 2-liter soda bottle. But if the person mixing the noxious brew makes the slightest error, such as removing the cap too soon or accidentally perforating the plastic, the concoction can explode, searing flesh and causing permanent disfigurement, blindness or even death.
Shake-and-bake: that's the method used by the Okie with pantsplosy. The AP reports on the shockingly large proportion -- up to one-third -- of patients in burn units hurt by making meth, how their treatment costs about 60 percent more than other burn patients, how they're usually uninsured, and how that all combines to cause some burn units to shut down.
In other words, thanks to the proxy meth war, cold and allergy sufferers not only find it harder to find relief of their symptoms, but they and everyone else are finding it harder to receive emergency treatment. (Though again, it's good for business for Mexican crime families.) Such significant negative unintended consequences aren't something to sneeze at.
And it gets worse (emphasis added):
Also known as the "one-pot" approach, the method is popular because it uses less pseudoephedrine - a common component in some cold and allergy pills. It also yields meth in minutes rather than hours, and it's cheaper and easier to conceal. Meth cooks can carry all the ingredients in a backpack and mix them in a bathroom stall or the seat of a car.
The improvised system first emerged several years ago, partly in response to attempts by many states to limit or forbid over-the-counter access to pseudoephedrine. Since then, the shake-and-bake recipe has spread to become the method of choice.
The article goes on to explain that shake-and-bake, as dangerous as it is, has become the method of choice for producing meth, used by about 80 percent of labs. It also points out that the large lab supplying many users has been replaced by many more labs with people making their own meth for themselves.
Incidentally, they can do this without even having to buy pseudoephedrine -- or anything else, for that matter. Also recently from Oklahoma (emphasis added):
According to CBS affiliate KOTV, security personnel called 911 to report that a woman had gathered ingredients, including chemical drain cleaner and lithium, throughout the store, and was mixing them on a store shelf. They told police she had been in the store for six hours.
Police allege that Alisha Greta Halfmoon, 45, mixed two containers of sulfuric acid, and that one officer felt a burning sensation on his hand after touching some of it. Police did not find pseudoephedrine, a cold medication used to make meth.
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