States Attack Meth Via Higher Penalties, Treatment

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With methamphetamine use rising nationwide, states are working in various ways to combat it, reports. Making meth is easy but dangerous. Its key ingredient is pseudoephedrine, a chemical found in over-the-counter cold medicines. “Cooking” meth leaves behind five to ten pounds of poisonous gases and fluids for every pound of the drug. Children exposed to the fumes can suffer chemical burns, respiratory damage, and suffocation, and mistakes can cause explosions and fires.

Small-scale meth labs have been proliferating exponentially, especially in the central and western parts of the country. The Denver Post said that lab seizures nationally rose from 288 in 1992 to 8,290 in 2001.

State legislators have stiffened penalties for making the drug, especially near children. Missouri this summer made the production of meth within 2000 feet of a school a felony. In December 2002, the Colorado passed laws designed to crack down on meth production, including a measure that classifies cooking meth in a home with children as felony child abuse. An Illinois law eliminates reduced sentences for those caught with the ingredients to make meth.

States are also trying to restrict access to meth’s ingredients. Missouri, the state with the highest per capita number of meth labs, requires retailers to keep medicines with pseudoephedrine in a controlled part of the store.

Anhydrous ammonia, a common fertilizer stored in large tanks on farms, is a key ingredient a popular meth recipe. To stop thieves from stealing fertilizer, the Iowa drug policy office has begun distributing valve locks to farmers throughout the state.

State agencies are straining to treat meth addicts. Those familiar with the drug’s effects often claim users need a full year of continuous treatment to stand a chance of staying sober. “Drug treatment in Arkansas is still linked to 28-day programs,” said State Rep. Jan Judy, who has sponsored legislation targeting the meth problem. “And we all know that 28 days is not enough for meth. . . With the new drugs, they’ve got to change the model.” More intensive treatment programs carry higher price tags, and states are struggling to pay for them. In Arkansas, “the money [for drug and alcohol abuse treatment] runs out way before the year runs out,” said Rep. Judy.

The spread of meth use has forced South Dakota to turn to triage when providing treatment for addicts. An official says the state has to “prioritize who we’ll serve.” To receive treatment for addiction, a South Dakotan must have an income below a certain level. Within that income group, pregnant women, intravenous drug users, and those “medically impacted” by their addiction get priority.


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