A Little Inconvenience Can Control The Meth Crisis

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Methamphetamine is being cooked every day in illegal labs across Arizona -- destroying lives, feeding other crimes, endangering children and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

These makeshift labs are able to keep fueling the meth epidemic largely for one reason: the key chemical -- pseudoephedrine -- is so easy to get from decongestant tablets.

Meth cooks rely on "smurfers" who go from store to store, walking out with hundreds or even thousands of tablets at a time. At most stores, they meet little resistance, taking packages often by the dozen.

My office talked recently with a convicted meth user and smurfer, who delivered these pills to meth labs in big numbers. Maggie (not her real name) is serving a three-year prison sentence on meth-related charges.

We asked Maggie what she thought would happen if the law in Arizona were changed to require pseudoephedrine tablets to be placed behind pharmacy counters and a log kept to prevent repeat shopping.

"Most meth labs would shut down," she said. "Without all the tablets, there's no cooking."

That's what Oklahoma found in the past year. Its new anti-meth law moved pseudoephedrine tablets behind the pharmacy counter and required proof of ID plus a signature. Meth lab seizures have dropped more than 70 percent and meth arrests have declined dramatically.

The Oklahoma law's positive impact prompted 29 states, including Arizona, to introduce similar measures. While the bill in this state remains stuck in the House Appropriations Committee, other states are moving forward.

Opponents of the Arizona bill complain it might inconvenience customers, but their argument is seriously overstated. Decongestants will still be available on the shelf in gelcap or liquid form, since these products are generally not used to make meth. Meth production and use today ranks as Arizona's No. 1 crime problem. The highly addictive drug is directly connected with many other crimes, including domestic abuse, child neglect, burglary, auto theft and identity theft.

The cost to society associated with a single meth lab has been estimated at more than $300,000.

Senior law enforcement officials from 23 states and 50 Arizona law enforcement leaders agreed that the most effective step our state can take to fight meth is to make pseudoephedrine tablets harder to get.

A little inconvenience is a very small price to pay to help bring this drug crisis under control.

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