By Bob van der Valk
We moved to our small town of Terry, Montana about two years ago and one of the first things we noticed were the proliferation of “Meth not even once” billboards and other signs posted along the roads and highways in Prairie County.
We asked around to find out if the area was invested with these types of labs and usage but were assured that is was just part of a campaign by the State of Montana to keep the meth drug epidemic under control. Alas, the campaign has not been successful and the use of meth has not decreased in Montana although a lot of money was spent on promoting as a community project in each area of the state.
Methamphetamine makers of the illegal drug now have perfected a one-pot recipe that enables them to manufacture their highly addictive products while on the move in their car or just squatting in abandoned houses.
The only materials they need are a two-liter soda bottle, a few cold pills and some household chemicals, which can be locally obtained.
There may be a simpler way to end this mobile illegal drug factory and most of the methamphetamine production. The State of Montana first must pass a law to keep the key ingredient, an over the counter drug pseudo ephedrine, out of the hands of meth producers.
Pseudo ephedrine is a nasal decongestant found in some cold and allergy medicines. In 1976, the Food and Drug Administration allowed them to be sold over the counter, inadvertently letting the genie out of the bottle. Afterwards, the meth epidemic spread across the nation, leaving destroyed lives and families in its wake.
Sales of products containing pseudo ephedrine in the United States amount to nearly $600 million per year. However, according to the pharmaceutical industry about 15 million Americans legally use the drug to treat their stuffed-up noses, and these people typically buy no more than a package or two worth $20 per year. That leaves half of the sales of the nasal decongestants going into the illegal meth drug trade.
In 2006, Congress required pseudo ephedrine products to be moved behind the counter, set daily and monthly limits on the amount that can be sold to any one customer and required retailers to keep a log of sales. But meth users quickly learned to evade these controls by using shills to make purchases in several different stores — a practice known as “smurfing.”
In an effort to avoid having more stringent controls placed on the drug, the pharmaceutical industry is lobbying Congress to require electronic tracking of pseudo ephedrine sales, as some states already do.
This makes it harder for an individual smurfer to collect large quantities of the drug. But meth users get around the tracking system by banding together in cooperatives, with each member buying pseudo ephedrine products in amounts small enough to evade detection. These group smurfers then contribute their portion to the pot in exchange for cash or a share of the cooked-up meth
The only effective solution is by returning pseudo ephedrine to prescription-drug status. Other states like Oregon and Mississippi have already passed such laws and have seen usage go down over 50% along with the crimes associated with this type of drug use.
That means that pseudo ephedrine prescriptions will have to be obtained by the patient from a medical doctor and will be applied to medicines like Sudafed -12 Hour, Aleve-D and Advil-Cold and Sinus. Most cold and allergy medicines on store shelves are not affected, because they contain no pseudo ephedrine.
For Montana families, with too many already devastated by the meth epidemic, it will mean another trip to the doctor but keep this illegal drug out of the hands of innocent children.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and we will be able to take down those infernal “Meth not even once” signs for good. We will then be able to once again show our visitors that Montana is the “Big Sky” country not “Big Meth” country.
Published Nov. 17, 2010