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Numbers don’t lie. Kentucky State Police reports that there were 1,080 methamphetamine labs found statewide during 2010, exceeding all previous year totals.
From 2004 to 2009, there were 11,465 meth-related arrests in the state.
There were at least six meth lab busts in Grant County in 2010, including three at Locus Ridge Apartments in Dry Ridge in a three-month span.
“We’re still experiencing a problem,” said Grant County Sheriff Chuck Dills. “What’s probably been the biggest change is the method of making it. They’ve developed a one-step way of making it whereas before they were having to full on cook it. It’s a whole lot easier to conceal making it. They can do it in cars and motel rooms where they are not needing cooking items to cook it.”
Statistics highlight the problem, but the real question remains, how can the meth epidemic be slowed down?
During the recent 2011 General Assembly, a Senate bill took aim at hurting meth manufacturers by making medication that contained pseudoephedrine — a main ingredient in meth — a prescription-only drug.
The goal was to cut off the supply of a necessary precursor to meth that can be found at local pharmacies.
The bill narrowly passed a Senate committee, before dying and not being introduced to the full Senate.
“There just wasn’t enough votes to pass it,” said Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. “It wasn’t a Republican and Democrat issue. There were members of both parties for the bill and against the bill. It was more of a regional issue. Without a doubt, Eastern Kentucky wasn’t definitely for it.”
While he understands the motivation behind the bill, Thayer said he did not support it.
“To me, it just seems like that approach punishes the innocent, the 99 percent of people who suffer from sinus and allergy problems who don’t use it to make meth,” he said. “I also felt like it would drive up medical costs because people would have to go to the doctor to get a prescription. It would clog up doctor’s offices. The unintended consequences of the bill were such that I just can’t support it.”
Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge, disagrees.
“I think the companies that sell these drugs, like Sudafed, are fighting it because they don’t want to lose the business,” he said. “There’s other things (patients) can use in place of it. And, if Sudafed is what they have to have, they certainly can get a prescription for it.”
Adams said he received a call from the Gallatin County sheriff in support of the bill because of a rash of meth-related arrests.
“He told me it’s costing the taxpayers $600 a day to keep the people in jail they have arrested on meth lab charges,” he said. “The people who are contacting me are saying we need to do something about this methamphetamine problem. We’ve had quite a few arrests here in Grant County recently.”
This is not the first time lawmakers have tackled the meth problem.
Federal and state laws limit the amounts of meth precursors that individuals can buy.
Only pharmacies can sell the products, which must be kept behind the counter.
Only 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine can be sold to an individual in one day and only 9 grams can be purchased by an individual in 30 days.
Pharmacies must keep an electronic log that contains date and time of sale, name, address and date of birth of purchaser and the amount purchased.
Purchasers must show a government-issued ID, be at least 18 years old and sign a logbook.
At least 42 states have enacted laws controlling the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine, including several who have meth offender registries listing people who have been convicted of controlled substance offenses.
NPLEx, Kentucky’s electronic tracking system, which is accessible to law enforcement, is mandatory for all pharmacies and can be used to block sales of precursor drugs to those who are attempting to purchase more than the legal amount.
NPLEx is provided free to Kentucky by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, an organization of pharmaceutical manufacturers.
In order to qualify for the free provision of NPLEx, a state must mandate that all sellers use a stop sale electronic tracking system that automatically notifies the pharmacy at the point of sale when a consumer has tried to buy more than the legal limit of the product.
“It was a great tool for us at first,” Dills said about the tracking system. “Then, (manufacturers) figured they would get their brother, sister, cousins and everyone else to buy it for them.”
A recent Associated Press review of federal data on meth from 2000 to 2009 showed that meth-related activity is on the rise nationally, up 34 percent in 2009.
The increase was higher in three states, including Kentucky, that have electronically tracked sales of medication containing pseudoephedrine since at least 2008.
Meth incidents rose 65 percent in Kentucky, 34 percent in Arkansas and 164 percent in Oklahoma.
Between June 2008 and May 2010, NPLEx recorded nearly 2.6 million individual attempts to purchase products containing meth precursors, primarily pseudoephedrine, in Kentucky.
In 96 percent of those attempts, a legal limit was not exceeded and the purchase was completed.
Dills said making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug would have been a benefit for law enforcement.
“It would have been a major inconvenience to the public,” he said. “I’m sure that is why it failed. What it would have done for us in law enforcement is make it harder for people to get other people to go buy their Sudafed for them.”
Two states have made the precursor drugs prescription only: Oregon in 2006 and Mississippi in July 2010.
Prior to Oregon taking legal steps to curb its meth problem in 2004, law enforcement agencies were reporting an average of 40 meth labs and dumpsites per month statewide, according to a 2011 Kentucky Legislator’s Program Review and Investigations Committee report.
There was an almost immediate decrease in November 2004 when the Oregon Board of Pharmacy moved pseudoephedrine products behind the counter and required purchasers to present a photo ID.
Over the next six months, there was an average of 24 reported labs and dumpsites per month.
The average dropped to nine per month in the year following the board’s May 2005 ruling that required pseudoephedrine sales be logged.
On average, Oregon law enforcement agencies have reported 1.5 labs per month since the prescription law went into effect.
In the 12 months prior to Mississippi requiring a prescription to obtain meth precursors, law enforcement agencies were reporting an average of 77 labs and dumpsites per month statewide, according to the report.
Since July 1, 2010, when the prescription law took effect, reported numbers have dropped to an average of 23 per month through December 2010.
Kentucky law enforcement reported an average of 59 methamphetamine labs and dumpsites per month in 2009.
While he does not support making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug, Thayer said he believes the General Assembly did take steps in curbing the problem with the this session’s passage of the landmark penal code reform, House Bill 463.
“It was a terrific piece of bipartisan legislation that recognizes that we have a major drug problem in Kentucky that’s led to overcrowding in our prisons,” he said. “This bill puts more emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation for first-time drug offenders who do what I call ‘crimes against themselves.’ We’re going to divert some of the savings from this bill into treatment programs for first-time offenders. It’’s my hope that perhaps treatment and education can cut down on the demand for drugs like meth.”
Thayer believes the issue of making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug will come up again next session as some are already working on a potential compromise bill.
While he said will keep an open mind if it is reintroduced, Thayer still is skeptical of the effectiveness the bill would have on the fight against meth.
“I think that criminals will always find a way to get their hands on the ingredients to make meth,” Thayer said. “Just because you make something prescription does not mean there’s not going to be abuse. We have a problem with prescription drug abuse in Kentucky. That’s another reason I didn’t think the bill would have been effective.”
Adams said he agrees manufacturers will find a way to still get their hands on pseudoephedrine, but if the state is able to slow them down, it’s a step in the right direction.
“We, as legislators, are being forced to do what we have to do,” Adams said. “If you just completely ignore the problem, it’s not going to go away.”
By the Numbers
11,465 - meth-related arrests from 2004 to 2009 in Kentucky.
6 - meth-related arrests in Grant County in 2010.