A big reason for the growing methamphetamine problem is that in the early 2000s, a new way to cook meth made it much easier for home cooks to produce it on a small scale. It was called the “shake and bake” or “one-pot” method, and people with almost no knowledge of chemistry could follow the directions and come up with their own batch of potent meth (unless they were blown up).
In less than ten years since this new method became available, the number of meth labs discovered and shut down by police exploded with a 63% increase (from 2007 to 2013). Especially in rural areas, meth labs and meth use have become an entrenched and pervasive problem.
It seems like an unmanageable situation, since tougher penalties have not worked to deter meth dealers. However, there are several solutions which, if enacted by the US Senate, would drastically impede methamphetamine production by cutting the supply line. This is the best way to fight the meth problem, since it takes any choice in the matter out of drug dealers’ hands.
Pseudoephedrine is one of the ingredients for making meth. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most accessible. It’s found in many cold medications (think Sudafed and the like), which are sold freely throughout most of the country. This means that if the access to pseudoephedrine could be restricted, meth dealers would be cut off from their primary ingredient.
Acura Pharmaceuticals, a drug manufacturing company, has worked out a form of pseudoephedrine which can’t be tampered with. They say that if meth dealers attempt to use it, it will “turn to mush” and the meth recipe will fail. The product is called Nexafed, and it’s on the market now.
The primary concern with meth-resistant products is that they’re not as effective as the normal stuff. However, Acura Pharmaceuticals has done studies and found that Nexafed acts in the body the same way and just as effectively as normal cold medicines do. Other meth-resistant products are now on the market too, though Nexafed appears to be the most effective.
PSEUDOEPHEDRINE AS PRESCRIPTION DRUG
Another way to restrict access to pseudoephedrine is to require a prescription for any cold or allergy medicines which contain the normal, non-Nexafed version of it. This would be a no-nonsense and fairly easy way to restrict access to pseudoephedrine.
In fact, twenty five states have taken action to restrict access to pseudoephedrine in just this way. However, only two (Oregon and Mississippi) have succeeded. In nearly every other case where states have considered legislation, pharmaceutical companies have campaigned heavily against it. Why? Because it would cut their profits. Pseudoephedrine brings in about $605 million annually, and they’re not willing to let that go. However, as progress in Oregon and Mississippi shows, it’s the right move whether or not Big Pharma approves.
OREGON AS CASE STUDY
In Oregon, they first tried placing pseudoephedrine behind the counter and putting a cap on how much could be bought at once—but in a nod to Big Pharma’s concerns, a prescription was not required. Meth dealers were easily able to work around these restrictions by sending multiple buyers out until they had purchased what was needed.
When the state finally required a prescription in 2006, the number of meth lab busts in Oregon fell by 96%. By 2009, all crime in the state fell to a 40-year low point. According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, the restriction of pseudoephedrine was a key factor.
Mississippi has had similar success, with a 74% drop in meth lab busts since pseudoephedrine was made available by prescription only. The meth coordinator for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics says that restricting pseudoephedrine has freed up a lot of the police’s time to investigate and take down bigger drug traffickers, rather than having to clean up a seemingly infinite supply of small-potato meth labs throughout the state.
When the facts are laid out this clearly, it’s easy to see that access to pseudoephedrine is the weak link in our defense against methamphetamine production. The Senate should act to remedy this immediately!