Six years ago the Kalamazoo Gazette reported, wrote and published an eight-part series, “The Menace of Meth.” People reacted, new laws were written and funding was found to fight methamphetamine, a drug that had taken hold in southwestern Michigan because of the relative ease and cheapness of its production.
For a little while, it looked as though we’d won the war.
It was a premature celebration. Today, the drug is easier to manufacture, although no less dangerous, and it has become an even greater problem in Michigan with 756 meth incidents statewide in 2010, according to a report the Kalamazoo Gazette published April 3.
Once again, lawmakers and law enforcers are looking for answers. State Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, and a former St. Joseph County sheriff, said he plans to follow the lead of Oregon and Mississippi and introduce legislation that would require a doctor’s prescription for anyone who wanted to buy a medicine containing pseudo-ephedrine, an important ingredient in the production of meth.
Several states are looking at similar legislation. Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry is fighting these attempts. Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in cold and allergy medicines to help relieve congestion. Sales of over-the-counter drugs containing the ingredient exceed $550 million a year. Prescription-only legislation has been defeated in Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and West Virginia.
But our concern is that more legislation would serve to treat symptoms — temporarily — and not the disease.
In 2005, Michigan, along with the several other states and the federal government, passed laws restricting the amount of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine that could be purchased at one time. Efforts were also made to make it harder for meth “cooks” to get another ingredient — anhydrous ammonia.
To get around the restrictions, meth users would store hop, buying the legal limit at several stores. A one-pot method of manufacturing the drug was also developed. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the volatility of the drug. The manufacturing process can easily go wrong, resulting in explosions, death and injury.
And taxpayers are footing the bill for the injuries, as makers and users of meth seldom carry health insurance. Bronson Methodist Hospital treated 17 patients burned in meth mishaps last year at an average of $130,000 per patient. Cleanup costs are also a problem. Counties had been using federal funds to get rid of the hazardous waste which results from meth operations, but those funds dried up in February, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller.
We all want to see methamphetamine use decrease, but new laws will only deter, not stop, drug seekers. Laws already exist restricting many narcotics to prescription only, and yet the illegal trade in pills containing opiates like oxycontin and vicodin is flourishing. So much so that billboards are up all over Kalamazoo warning parents to keep their prescription drugs locked up.
The real answer to the meth problem won’t be found in a legislative quick fix. Meth use is a sign of addiction. The drug is cheap and easy to make or acquire. It gives the user the ability to feel as if nothing else matters. The reasons people begin using meth and other drugs are many and complicated, but often involve the inability to cope with problems or growing up in an environment where drug use is normal.
Solving the meth problem involves working with the mental health, substance abuse and legal system to combat the causes of drug abuse. If legislators want to help, they can make sure funding for treatment programs and drug courts stays intact.
— KALAMAZOO GAZETTE