NEW WAR ON DRUGS FOUGHT IN GROCERY STORES
THE next battle in the war against illegal drugs could well be waged
in grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies.
In the United States, 20 per cent of the supply of methamphetamine is
made by household operations that acquire their main ingredients from
over-the-counter drugs, such as cold medicines and decongestants,
according to Gerry Harrington, a spokesman for the National Drug
Manufacturers Association of Canada.
Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is highly addictive and has become
the drug of choice in parts of Canada and the United States.
The trend to small-scale operations has led to a rash of
smash-and-grabs where drug makers steal large quantities of cold
medicine and then "cook it" in clandestine labs, Harrington said.
And in a technique known as smurfing, addicts accompanied by several
buddies or young children drive from store to store, buying small
quantities of medicine to avoid suspicion, he said.
About 500 meth labs were uncovered last year in Oregon alone, compared
to just 30 in all of Canada, Harrington said. "It's just a matter of
time before we see it get out of hand here," he said.
The key ingredient in meth is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, legal
chemicals that are commonly found in cold medicines, but which have a
wide variety of uses, including in manufacturing processes.
(Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are closely related drugs with actions
and side effects similar to adrenaline.)
In New Zealand, some store owners have called for a ban on the sale of
cold medicines because of a rise in the numbers of burglaries and break-ins.
But Harrington said banning such medicines would deny Canadians access
to drugs they want and need.
Instead, a national education program will help employees identify
suspicious purchases of over-the-counter drugs.