Law officers respond to anti-meth plan

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In the wake of proposals by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster to make cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only, most local law enforcement officials are in favor of the plan.

John Luckey, a member of the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force, strongly supports the proposal as a way of combatting the manufacture of methamphetamine.

"Absolutely," he said. "I've been fighting this war for 15 years. I don't see anything happening without removing pseudoephedrine from the shelves."

Luckey said the most popular form of methamphetamine production, the "shake and bake" labs, are exploding in southwest Missouri.

"It's easy, it's quick, and if meth cooks want to get around the system, they just find someone who needs $20 or $30 and have them buy [pseudoephedrine,]" he said. "Or they load up a carful of people and go 'smurfing,' where everyone goes into a store and buys the maximum amount they can."

As for the possible ramifications from those suddenly becoming weaned from the substance, Luckey draws from his past experience.

"They'll find another drug of choice," he said. "Probably in the opiate family. Phentynol or oxycontin. There is always the potential for abuse there."

Luckey said it's not only the physical effects of methamphetamine that are dangerous, but the psychological addiction as well.

Meth controls the part of the brain that affects judgment, control reward and control memory. It produces an extreme peak of euphoria that sends the user into a vicious cycle of chasing down the drug to get the extreme high.

"It dominates their thought processes," Luckey said. "Not to mention how it tears up their bodies."

Luckey, an allergy sufferer for several years, believes restricting the availability of pseudoephedrine is the only way to combat the problem on a local level.

"There are alternatives out there for people who need allergy relief," Luckey said. "Or people can go to the doctor for a prescription."

A veteran of the war on drugs, Luckey isn't optimistic about the complete eradication of methamphetamine from southwest Missouri.

"We still have to battle those bringing it up from Mexico," he said. Until the government becomes more proactive about closing the border, there will be no way to restrict drug trafficking coming into this area from the south.

In 2005, Missouri lawmakers mandated that all pharmacies utilize a National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEX), a statewide database, used to track the number of pseudoephedrine purchases made by individuals. While not all pharmacies are online with the program, they are required to be by Dec. 28.

"By tracking every person buying pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient used in making meth, law enforcement is now able to track down the people that are abusing the pills and take down those meth labs," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. "Making pseudoephedrine available only by prescription would be a large step in making the primary ingredient harder to obtain by meth cooks."

According to Epperly, the most popular way of making the drug these days is the "shake and bake" method, using a pop bottle for easy production. The main ingredient is still pseudoephedrine, and, although quicker, the mobile labs are far more dangerous than the meth cook making the product in his garage.

"When we first made pseudoephedrine harder to get by making people sign for it, there was a large decrease in the number of meth labs in the area," Epperly continued. "But with this new shake and bake method, we're seeing a huge increase again. We're losing good kids, good people to this drug."

Epperly is strongly in favor of making the medication available by prescription only.

"I think this is the strongest move the [legislature] can make on this war against meth," Epperly said. "The meth problem affects every citizen, not just those using it.

"Some people will argue that they shouldn't have to get a prescription for the medicine just because someone else is abusing it," Epperly said. "But you have to look at the bigger picture and the greater good for our communities."

State Representative David Sater, of Cassville, is not in favor of the proposal -- at least for the time being.

"The 2005 bill that required those purchasing pseudoephedrine to sign for it had good intent," Sater said. "But there is not enough law enforcement officials to go around checking signatures every day. The real time signature tracking program isn't even in effect yet. There has not been enough time to see how it will work."

Sater said that the program can track real time purchases of the product, and if an individual tries to purchase more than the allotted amount of cold medications, they would be prohibited from doing so.

Sater is concerned about the potential impact of the proposal on middle and lower class citizens.

"There will be the added cost of having a doctor's visit, and the cost of dispensing the medication as a prescription," Sater said. "We should wait and give the electronic signature system time to work and not penalize the average citizen in the state of Missouri."

Gov. Nixon said his administration will work with legislators to introduce the bill in the upcoming General Assembly to require that pseudoephedrine be obtained only with a valid prescription. The session starts in January. If passed, Missouri would join Oregon and Mississippi as the only states that currently have such a requirement.

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