Smuggling remains a problem in battling meth
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona has signed into law a measure that conforms with federal restrictions on sales of medicine containing an element of methamphetamine.
PEOPLE with head colds have been inconvenienced in the past two months by being required to limit their purchases of popular nonprescription medicines. The results are well worth the bother: making it difficult for a person to use the pills to extract an essential ingredient of methamphetamine, an illegal drug that has devastated many families in Hawaii.
Since April 8, pharmacies across the country have been required by federal law to limit a person's purchases of medicines containing pseudoephedrine to 3.6 grams in a single day and 9 grams a month. On Sept. 30, they will have to move the medicines behind a counter, ask the customer for photo identification and keep a logbook of the transactions.
Hawaii's Legislature enacted a weaker law last year allowing up to 9 grams of medicines containing pseudoephedrine for a single day's purchase. This year's session approved legislation that conforms with the new federal law, signed by President Bush in March as part of the USA Patriot Act. Some states have stricter laws; Oregon will require prescriptions for medicines containing the ingredient by July 1.
Drug manufacturers have responded by beginning to replace pseudoephedrine with other ingredients. For example, Pfizer has introduced a version of Sudafed using phenylephrine and is reformulating Benadryl and other products. Johnson & Johnson reportedly is remaking Sudafed, and Wyeth is reformulating Robitussin.
The restrictions will not end the meth epidemic. Eighty percent of meth is smuggled into the country, 65 percent from superlabs in Mexico from chemicals diverted from legitimate streams of commerce. Most of the pseudoephedrine is produced in China, India and Germany.
The pharmacy controls have been effective. Oklahoma was the first state to ban over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines, and it resulted in a 90 percent reduction in the state's lab seizures. However, Oklahoma's seizures of meth originating in Mexico rose nearly fivefold.
Keith Kamita, chief of the state Narcotics Enforcement Division, predicted the new law could reduce the number of meth labs in Hawaii by 75 percent. He said only one such Hawaii lab has been investigated this year, compared with 17 last year.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said last month that he and Mexico's attorney general have agreed on several initiatives that "represent a policy of true mutual cooperation that will put meth and all its horrors firmly on the road to extinction."
Gonzalez said they would "trace precursor chemicals destined for our region of the world, uncover and dismantle lab sites fueled by these chemicals and track the meth distribution trail into our country, from seller to buyer. We will attack these criminals in their labs, on their trafficking routes and in their markets."
Such initiatives must be highly successful in order to put a significant dent in this drastic problem.