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January 28, 2010 10:03:00 AM
The tide may soon turn in Mississippi''s battle against methamphetamines.
Bills have passed through judiciary committees in both the state House and Senate which would make ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, precursors to crystal meth, Schedule III drugs.
Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are found in common cold medications, are currently available over the counter in limited quantities in Mississippi. The change to Schedule III would make the substances available only with a doctor''s prescription.
Mike Perkins, lieutenant colonel of enforcement with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, says doctor shopping will become a problem if the bills become law, but that problem is preferable to chasing down meth labs.
"Anytime anyone gets a prescription from a doctor filled, the pharmacies report it immediately to an online Internet monitoring system. They can look at anybody to see what they''re getting. If people are getting an excessive amount of ephedrine, we know what it''s for," said Perkins.
Stamping out methamphetamine use has become Mississippi''s top drug enforcement problem. The MBN dealt with 586 meth labs and made 978 meth-related arrests in 2009, more than double the numbers for 2008.
By contrast, Oregon, which enacted similar legislation in 2006 to make ephedrine available only through prescriptions, saw the incidence of meth labs drop 96 percent to just 20 cases in 2009.
Perkins says methamphetamines are a statewide problem. It''s more severe in areas with a higher population, but it''s well established in rural areas like the Golden Triangle.
Columbus meth shoppers
Lowndes County Sheriff''s Office Narcotics Agent Joey Brackin says his office dealt with 343 meth-related cases in 2009, up 22 percent from 2008. Each of those cases included at least one arrest. In 2004 he says Lowndes dealt with more meth cases than any county in Mississippi.
"We do seem to have our share and maybe a little more," he said.
A big part of the problem, he says, is meth cooks from smaller communities with fewer drug stores coming to the area to purchase medicines containing ephedrine.
"(Small communities) might have one or two stores that sell it. And you can only buy so much without arousing suspicion," said Brackin. "Here we have around 10 different stores that you can go to two to three times a month without arousing suspicion."
A statewide database of past offenders and suspects helps to catch cooks after they buy the medicine, but Columbus continues to see an influx of purchasers. One local pharmacist said he had "a huge problem with people from Alabama coming here," before he stopped selling medications containing ephedrine.
"If you live in West Alabama, where are you going to get it? We are the big city," said Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John. "People consider us to be small, but we''re big compared to other places. It''s easier to get lost in Columbus than their own little towns."
St. John adds that many visitors to Columbus who thought they could buy ephedrine anonymously have ended up in jail, but it''s impossible to know how many manufacturers are shopping locally.
"(Manufacturers) are driving many miles to go to many different stores and hoping we don''t know what they''re doing," said Pickens County, Ala., Sheriff David Abston.
Abston says laws are already stricter in Mississippi than in Alabama, limiting the amount of epehedrine-containing medicines a person can purchase in one stop.
"For the life of me, I don''t know why (the laws) are not stronger here," he said.
But not all pharmacists are being inundated with requests for medicines with ephedrine. Bill Portera, pharmacy manager of Super Save On Drugs in Starkville says no suspicious customers visit his store.
"We don''t have the traffic here large stores have. And the perception among the population is the selection would be larger and they''ll be more inconspicuous in larger stores," said Portera.
Gene Coleman, pharmacy manager at New Hope Pharmacy and former Columbus Ward 3 city councilman, says his store gets a few suspicious customers each week, but his staff knows the clientele well enough to avoid those sales.
"We carry a limited supply (of medication containing ephedrine) to take care of our patients. And for those that we don''t know, we might not have it in stock," said Coleman.
''Labs'' pose dangers
After the ingredients are purchased, methamphetamines can be produced virtually anywhere. The multi-step, or "Nazi" method involves an open flame. The "Shake and Bake" method involves putting all ingredients in one container and allowing a chemical reaction.
Brett Watson, commander of narcotics investigations for the Oktibbeha County Sheriff''s Office, says he''s seen labs in houses, trailers and even vehicles.
"We''ve seen some well-concealed and some not so well-concealed," said Watson.
Both methods are dangerous and prone to chemical explosions. Watson says one arrest last year was made after a man using the "Shake and Bake" method was burned when the bottle he was mixing in exploded.
A serious problem emerging from the state''s meth problem is children being exposed to chemicals or even injured in explosions from their parents'' labs, Perkins said.
"We took over 100 children out of meth labs this year with respiratory problems or who have been burnt. It is killing kids," he said.
In the Golden Triangle, law enforcement officials are doing the best they can to stem the tide. The OCSO charged five individuals with manufacture of meth and seven more with conspiracy to manufacture in 2009.
Clay County Sheriff''s Office Chief Deputy Eddie Scott said incidences of labs are down in Clay, but possession charges are up.
All officials agree the new legislation will put a significant dent in the incidence of meth manufacture across the state if it is voted into law.
ads commented at 1/28/2010 12:27:00 PM:
This is ridiculous. Every time I have the sniffles, get a doctor's appointment, 80.00+ to have a prescription of Advil Cold and Sinus, 7.50. Totally absurd. The powers that be in Jackson have not thought this one through.
LEO commented at 1/28/2010 12:51:00 PM:
There are other alternatives to helping with the sniffles than products that contain pseudoephedrine. There are countless cold remedies over the counter that work very well that do not contain pseudoephedrine. You won't miss a beat, i promise. If you went into one of these houses where 2, 3, 4 year old kids had skin rashes and were clawing their skin off because their idiot parents had them sitting, sleeping, and crawling on floors, couches, and chairs that were saturated with meth residue, you'd be all for this legislation. It's not absurd, it's very much needed.
ABD commented at 1/28/2010 2:23:00 PM:
I'm with ads. I don't see the problem if it's as the article states that: "Anytime anyone gets a prescription from a doctor filled, the pharmacies report it immediately to an online Internet monitoring system." then why can't they simply set it up that when someone purchases this type of medicine it is also reported. You already have to ask for it because it behind the counter. Why do the innocent aways get punished because of what criminals do, and as for there are other alternatives.....the reason we have alternatives is because different medications affect people in different ways.
Missy commented at 1/28/2010 3:01:00 PM:
It makes alot of sense to have this medicine as a prescription. It seems to me that these medicines are worse than the medicines you have to have prescriptions for such as muscle relaxers. I know its not just that medicine but that is a key factor in making meth so why not try to stop it that way. However, I do see "ads" point by saying that we would hav to pay $80 for the doctor visit just to get $8 worth of medicine and if it turns into a prescription medicine I imagine the price would go up beacuse not as manypeople are buying it. You already have to show your ID to get the medicine and then it is put in a log. Maybe they should start writing it in the log and everyday put the log into the computer and send it to the government. That would make more sense. Or even have people take a copy of their picture ID or run their ID through an online base. Wuldnt that help?
LEO commented at 1/28/2010 4:22:00 PM:
There is already a log that is kept when you show your ID to get the cold medicines. The problem with that is, they can go to Walmart and get it, Walgreen's, Kmart, Kroger, Rite Aid, and so on. One person in a 30 minute span can get 4 boxes in one block. They are coming to these stores 3 and 4 in a vehicle. Whether you realize it or not, it is in epidemic proportions around here. If this legislation has the same effect here that is has had in other states, it's well worth passing it. Does it inconvienence people, sure it does, but it's better than having a meth lab in operation next to your house or a couple of houses away. Trust me, you don't just find these things in low income areas.
Taxpayer commented at 1/30/2010 9:57:00 PM:
This was simply a case of our politicians jumping on the bandwagon looking for a quick fix. What they failed to research, or just totally ignored is that Oregon had a multi disciplined approach to the problem. In addition to the prescription requirement, they went forward with state funding of education programs, rehabilitation efforts, and community and social programs. Washington State accomplished the same results, if not better, but without the prescription requirement.
Each state also went forward with developing a steering commitee of sorts, with reps from stakeholders in the state and stopped throwing grant money at law enforcement, who, to be honest, made no effort at demand reduction and in most cases did not use it to develop solutions, or long term strategies, but defaulted to buying new cars, laptop computers, overtime, training sessions that allowed trips to Disney World, and other toys that really had no effect on the problem.
Also, what they didnt mention about Oregon; it pushed the domestic meth producers underground into the same pill-head prescription system that gives us dirty doctors and a wall of HIPPA regulations and laws that make pharmacuetical diversion cases so difficult to investigate, and have prosecuted, you know the same system that can not prevent pill heads from selling oxycontin on the street for $80 bucks a pill. And, with the reduction of domestic labs, it fostered the Mexican based gangs to gain a strangle-hold in the state, which brought much more meth and violence to their state.
The police have to be smarter than the meth producers, and begin to use existing technology, or develop more intelligence driven investigations. Currently, they are not using the existing laws that require the reporting of PSE sales, and some of the existing data-bases, such as Meth-Check, that has been up and running in our state for some time now. Ask your local sheriff, or police chief who are backing this bill if his agency is a member of Meth Check (the service is provided free to law enforcement) and use its database to monitor PSE Sales in his jurisdiction. I bet a Who-dat T-Shirt, they dont know what youre talking about. But these same lacklustre leaders will wring their hands and tell their local elected officials they need more money, they need more laws. Also, these are the same police leaders who look at meth investigations as black-holes. They get nothing out of them, they dont get to seize cars, property, or other assets, because theyre just not there, or theyre tainted with a haz-mat liabilities. So, theres nothing in it for them, other than doing the job we expect them to do, and thats not enough sometimes!
I know what I will do, along with thousand of other residents. When I get the sniffles, I am not going to wait two weeks to see my doctor, pay him a $100 bucks, then go pay another $50 for the medicine. Ill drive over to another state, and buy a few packs, but you know what else. While Im there, Ill get my groceries for a few weeks, go shopping at those malls too. Ill be spending money over there with thousands of others from our state.
Ive been in the trenches, and Ill tell you that this is foolhardy. This effort was based on poor information provided to our state politicians from guys who wear the badge and uniform like a party costume.
REB commented at 1/31/2010 1:16:00 PM:
The comment of "Taxpayer" has some erroneous information about Oregon that needs to be corrected:
"Washington State accomplished the same results, if not better, but without the prescription requirement."
Not so. Washington meth lab incidents went back up to 186 in 2009, as compared to Oregon going down even further to 10. Furthermore, Washington is now a source state for smurfed PSE feeding the superlabs in California. That's why PSE prescription legislation has now been introduced in Washington.
"Also, what they didn't mention about Oregon; it pushed the domestic meth producers underground into the same pill-head prescription system . . ."
Not so. After over three and a half years of real experience, Oregon has seen no doctor shopping for PSE. The source of PSE for Oregon's remaining few meth labs each year has been from other states.
"And, with the reduction of domestic labs, it fostered the Mexican based gangs to gain a strangle-hold in the state, which brought much more meth and violence to their state."
Not so. Mexican meth is now weak because Mexico has banned PSE entirely. Oregon drug arrests have plummeted by 30 percent, and it is all due to decreasing meth arrests. This is unique in the nation, even as compared to Oregon's neighbors. Oregon's crime rates (both property and violent crimes) have taken the largest drop in our nation.
"The police have to be smarter than the meth producers, and begin to use existing technology, or develop more intelligence driven investigations."
MethCheck is a nice tool, but it does does not eliminate smurfing or reduce meth labs. Law enforcement does not want to arrest more smurfers or take down more meth labs. Law enforcement wants to eliminate smurfing and reduce meth labs.
"I've been in the trenches, and Ill tell you that this is foolhardy. This effort was based on poor information provided to our state politicians from guys who wear the badge and uniform like a party costume."
Not so. This effort was based on research and real results. Please do your homework. Mississippi's legislators have:
1. SMART splits Boardtown route, adds new stops for residents STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
2. Wait joins Dispatch staff as new MSU reporter COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Heiselt leaving Starkville school board, recommends Myles to post STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY