METH-LAB SEIZURES DROP 84% SINCE '99
Author: Dustin Gardiner
Sun, 28 May 2006
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City, UT)
Just six years after Utah was near the top in the nation for the number of meth lab raids per capita, such seizures in Utah have plummeted. Ravell Call, Deseret Morning NewsCold and allergy medicines such as Sudafed, which has ingredients that can be used to make meth, are kept behind the counter at Jolley's Corner Pharmacy in
Salt Lake City. The number of illicit methamphetamine-producing
operations shut down in Utah last year dropped by 84 percent from 1999's total.
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency reports that 242 labs were raided and materials seized in 1999, compared to 38 in 2005. Some law enforcement officials believe that voluntary and forced restrictions on the sale of meth-related products, principally cold medicines like Sudafed that contain chemicals necessary in the production of meth- amphetamine, have been successful in limiting local meth labs. Other potential reasons for the decrease include the concerted efforts of law enforcement officials to confront the meth epidemic and the effect of cheaper Mexican meth being brought into the state, officials said. When members of Congress passed an extension of the Patriot Act, they included a provision that requires over-the-counter medicines containing the chemical pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to cook meth, to be kept behind store counters.
The provision also limited the amount of pseudoephedrine products consumers can buy at one time and requires buyers to show photo ID and sign a logbook. Although the Patriot Act restrictions will not take full effect until next January, several large retailers began voluntarily implementing the changes over the past few years -- something Jacey Skinner, a Salt Lake City deputy district attorney, said has led to a decline in the amount of meth being produced in the state. "We know that the restrictions work," she said.
However, not everyone agrees the restrictions are responsible for the decrease. Reid Barker, executive director of the Utah Pharmacists Association, believes there is no correlation between the Patriot Act restrictions and the decrease in the number of meth labs. He said meth lab seizures began to decline years ago, before the restrictions were in place, because of the work that law enforcement officials like Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff have done to combat meth production in the state. "The Patriot Act restrictions are more of an inconvenience to legitimate users that need cold medicine in the middle of the night," he said. Mark Despito of the Utah DEA office said legal actions against businesses selling large amounts of precursor chemicals used to make meth, like crystal iodine and pseudoephedrine, were frequent several years ago but have now all but dropped to zero. "A lot of places were doing it back then, ( but ) because of law enforcement, public awareness, the Patriot Act and the whole nine yards that has almost diminished," he said. Some pharmacists say the restrictions are becoming a headache -- both to administer and for the purchasing public. "Pseudoephedrine is a really good drug that has a good legitimate use," said Kathy Goodfellow, owner of Mountain View Pharmacy in Bountiful. "It's unfortunate for consumers.
It's a case where a few bad apples ruined it for everyone." Although the number of labs producing meth in the state has sharply diminished, use of the drug remains dangerously high, with Salt Lake City coming in third nationally for meth use among women. The majority of meth being used is coming from outside the state, Skinner said. "Stopping labs hasn't decreased use," said Vernon Stejskal, chief over the Meth Prosecution Unit in the Utah Attorney General's Office. "The imported meth is completely filling the void," he said. Despito said the influx of meth from Mexico has made combating the epidemic difficult. "We're used to combating meth here in the states; ( the shift ) has made it a lot more difficult," he said. "The meth that is coming across ( the international border ) is even more than what was produced here locally, which shows that the demand ( for meth ) is increasing." Skinner said the Mexican variety is much purer than meth made in domestic labs, so it tends to be more addictive.
She said it's frustrating trying to address the issue when Utah officials have little, if any, control over meth being made in Mexico. Barker said the large amounts of meth brought to Utah from Mexico demonstrates that the Patriot Act restrictions haven't done much to solve the meth epidemic.
He said he's unsure how to combat the flood of meth coming across the southern border, but he said the current limitations on the sale of cold medicines are not the answer to the meth problem. "The problem is not just the labs; use is the problem," he said. Despito said his agency continues to work with the Mexican government to try to bring down criminal organizations that produce the drug. While shutting down labs has not driven down use, Skinner said having fewer labs is always good. "Meth labs have their own special dangers," she said. "They're highly explosive, horribly toxic, and children are almost always involved," living in homes where meth is produced or with people who abuse it.