HEALTH OFFICIALS VOW TO RESPOND TO RECOMMENDATIONS
REGINA -- Health Canada officials say they are taking recommendations from the western ministers conference on crystal meth seriously, even though they made changes to fight the growing use of the drug even before the conference began.
Early Friday, just before the ministers met in Regina, federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler announced the federal government's intent to strengthen licensing controls on the key ingredients used in the production of crystal meth as well as the date rape drug, GHB.
Four chemicals used in making methamphetamine -- red phosphorus, white phosphorus, hypophosphorous acid and hydriodic acid -- now require a licence and permit to import, export, produce or distribute.
The government is also considering amending the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow for tougher penalties for production, possession and trafficking of crystal meth.
Those were two of the five recommendations that eventually came from the western ministers at the conclusion of the one-day conference.
Participants also urged the federal government to create offences for possession of key ingredients, commit adequate resources to enforcement and create a national crystal meth awareness campaign.
Chris Williams, a spokesperson for Health Canada, said department officials are reviewing the other recommendations.
"We acknowledge the work that the western provinces are doing to address the concern of increased use and production of methamphetamine in their regions," he said. "We also support them in their efforts to find collaborative ways of addressing the issues."
Williams said Ottawa is talking to stakeholders about moving crystal meth up to a Schedule 1 drug, which would carry a maximum penalty of life for trafficking, instead of Schedule 3, which has a 10-year maximum sentence.
Less serious drugs, including meth, LSD and ecstasy, are among those classified as Schedule 3 drugs, while the Schedule 1 designation is used for the most dangerous drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.
As for the most concrete step taken by ministers at the conference -- restricting the sale of cold remedies containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- Saskatchewan's governing body for pharmacists isn't sure if it will be worthwhile.
"So far we've resisted pressure to impose restrictions because we haven't seen any evidence of increased sales that are leading to the clandestine manufacture of crystal meth," said Ray Joubert, registrar for the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacists. "If that were the case and there were solid evidence to support it, that's certainly something we would consider very seriously."
Western ministers have directed officials to report back by Oct. 1 with recommendations as to how the substances will be restricted.
Joubert said a balance between limiting access for illicit use and those who legitimately need the medicines is needed, but the college will ask members to abide by whatever is decided by the government.