published Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Police, drug lobby clash over Oklahoma meth bill

  • photo
    Medications containing pseuduoephedrine sit on a store shelf in Midwest City, Okla. Oklahoma authorities have been at the forefront of the nation's battle against methamphetamine, but they will soon have a tough new opponent: the politically connected, well-heeled pharmaceutical industry. At issue is a proposal to require a prescription for certain cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine, which is used to make meth. Prosecutors say the measure is essential to controlling the meth trade. Drug companies are eager to keep their pills on store shelves.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma authorities have been at the forefront of the nation’s battle against methamphetamine, but they will soon have a tough new opponent: a politically connected, well-heeled pharmaceutical industry.

At issue is a proposal to require a prescription for certain cold and allergy tablets containing pseudoephedrine. Police and prosecutors say the measure is essential for curbing an out-of-control meth trade. Drug companies and their lobbyists are eager to keep pills such as Claritin-D and Advil Cold and Sinus on store shelves.

The brewing legislative fight poses some tricky politics for lawmakers in this conservative state, squeezing them between big business’ opposition to increased regulation and law enforcement’s urgent pleas to curb the meth trade.

“It will be very passionate topic,” said state Rep. David Derby, a Republican who opposes the prescription-only effort. “You’re going to see the worst of the worst on one side and the worst of the worst on the other side. And you’re going to have the legislators in the middle of it.”

The debate in Oklahoma won’t be the last. Similar bills are under consideration in California, Alabama and Maine.

When Mississippi adopted a similar bill last year, drug companies spent thousands on lobbyists and launched an ad campaign that included radio and print advertising.

“We just feel very strongly about the rights of consumers to purchase a safe, effective and legal product,” said Carlos Gutierrez, director of state government relations for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a Washington-based group that represents the top manufacturers and distributors of nonprescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

Oklahoma, he says, “has an addiction problem. Until the state addresses that, we’re not going to do anything to combat the meth problem.”

Law enforcement groups say drug companies are chiefly concerned with money. In testimony before a U.S. Senate panel last year, the president of CHPA acknowledged that sales of products containing pseudoephedrine are worth $600 million.

“They are fighting this tooth and nail. Why? It’s for profit,” said Darrell Weaver, head of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. “These pharmaceutical companies have one goal in mind, and that’s to make profits. I have one goal in mind, and that’s to make Oklahoma safer.”

Oklahoma has been at the leading edge of anti-meth legislation before.

In 2004, it became the first state to ban over-the-counter sales of cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine. The legislation was prompted in part by the 2003 killing of a state trooper who was investigating a mobile meth lab when he was shot. The struggle was caught on the patrol car’s dashboard video camera.

After that ban went into effect, the number of meth labs quickly plummeted and dozens of states, and eventually Congress, followed with similar legislation.

But meth labs are on the rise again in Oklahoma and many other states. That’s largely because of a new “shake-and-bake” method of cooking the drug that requires only a small amount of pseudoephedrine and some easy-to-obtain ingredients that can be cooked in a 2-liter bottle on the run.

As meth users shared the recipe, the number of labs in Oklahoma jumped from 213 in 2008 to 743 in 2009, according to the Bureau of Narcotics.

Oklahoma’s proposed law would only apply to the tablet form of the drug. Proponents stress that gel caps and liquid forms of pseudoephedrine would still be available to purchase over the counter. But the industry argues that only the tablet form offers extended relief for cold and allergy sufferers.

Frustrated with growing meth activity, a handful of cities and towns across the state began enacting local laws to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine. But those ordinances were struck down in July, when Attorney General Scott Pruitt released an opinion stating that communities didn’t have the authority to do so.

Five years ago, Oregon became the first state to require a prescription for products containing pseudoephedrine — a step that authorities say was effective. Since then, the state has seen a 96 percent reduction in meth-lab incidents, a 32 percent drop in meth arrests and a 35 percent reduction in meth-related emergency room visits and health care costs.

In 2008, two years after the law took effect, the state experienced the nation’s largest crime rate decrease, said Rob Bovett, a district attorney in Lincoln County, Ore.

Mississippi is the only other state to impose a similar restriction, and it also has seen a tremendous drop in the number of meth labs.

“If you see a reduction between 10 and 15 percent, that’s a big deal, and we’re between 60 and 70 percent. And it almost happened overnight,” said Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

Oklahoma should prepare for “massive resistance” from the pharmaceutical industry, Bovett said.

“They put up a huge gauntlet,” he said. “And it’s the same type of gauntlet they’re putting up in many other states.”

The debate is sure to intensify when Oklahoma lawmakers meet for the 2012 legislative session beginning in February.

An attempt to approve a similar bill last year failed after the measure emerged from a House committee but was not granted a hearing on the House floor.

This year, a joint House and Senate panel conducted a two-day interim study on the proposal that drew nearly a dozen lobbyists, including drug company and pharmacy officials who touted a more enhanced computerized tracking system as a key to solving the problem.

But District Attorney Eddie Wyant, a prosecutor who has seen an explosion in the number of meth labs in his far northeastern Oklahoma district, said a tracking system isn’t going to do much to stop the problem.

“We don’t want to track meth labs,” Wyant said. “The fact is, I would just as soon not have any meth labs to track.”

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smadave said...

Whats next? A presciption for advil? Asprin? Just more Goverment Control...wake up people!

November 1, 2011 at 6:57 a.m.
dabigorange said...

I am awake. And the last time I checked, people on Advil or asprin don't shoot cops.

November 1, 2011 at 10:41 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Soooo what you're saying dabigorange, is that those who shoot cops, haven't also taken any Advil or Aspirin?

I know that you didn't mean to imply this, but your argument is an excellent one for folks that claim they are not responsible for their actions because they were on any particular drug. (alcohol included)

I think I understand that what smadave is saying: If tomorrow Advil was used in some way illegally, all law abiding citizens would suffer inconvenience in acquiring Advil based upon the proposal of laws to make Advil harder to obtain.

November 1, 2011 at 11:06 a.m.
holdout said...

There is an easy solution this this and all drug problems. Legalize it. Make it in vast quantities. Give it away in large chunks to anyone who wants it for free. Haul away the remains of anyone stupid enough to try it. Five years tops and the whole drug problem will have taken care of itself.

November 1, 2011 at 11:54 a.m.
aklashlee said...

holdout, what about the children left in the aftermath of your "soultion"! I don't see what the deal is about taking the crap off the market, period! I use Sudafed at times when I get terriable sinus headaches but i am sure there is an alternative out there. If this was the 80's they would have already pulled the drugs off the marked, I have seen it done! Key words here are "pharmaceutical industry"! They are so damn money hungry they don't want one of their big cash cows to die!

November 1, 2011 at 5:29 p.m.
holdout said...

Why should a good product that is safe when used properly be pulled away from those of us who use it correctly because of the stupidity of a few? The kids left over from my solution would have a very concrete example of why they should not use drugs. My hope would be that the idiots would kill themselves before they have a chance to breed. Maybe time would weed the stupid people out of the shallow end of the gene pool.

November 2, 2011 at 6:10 a.m.
aklashlee said...

We can start with you, holdout, you seem pretty damn stupid on this topic! Maybe you should read the side effects of this drug while you are at it!? Hey you aren't by chance going to lose some side income over this are you? Little shake and bake on the side... Meth is BAD for everybody, period! DCS is so overcrowded with children from this that it is pathetic. Innocents are dying, getting shot, robbed... Quit thinking about just your solution and go find another frigging cure for what ails you, lazy ass!

November 2, 2011 at 5:29 p.m.
holdout said...

Been taking it for colds for over fifty years. Not a meth head. Not special in that either. Lots of people take it and have no problem with it. Are you so ignorant that you have to take meth? Of course not. Neither am I. If it were out there legal and free would you take it? Of course not. Neither would I. Since a few people are so stupid that they want to commit suicide with meth should I have to be penalized when I have nothing to do with it? Should you? My point of all this was this; if you want to go try to heal meth heads by all means please do so. I would admire and respect that. But where does the government or anyone get off removing a safe and effective product from consumers who are using it safely and legally? What gives you the right to do that. Why not remove all vehicles from the roads too? More deaths are caused by vehicles than sudofed. Why not ban pork rinds since more people die of heart attacks than from dristan? God the poor children who have lost parents to cardiac arrest! How can you live with that?

November 3, 2011 at 10:51 a.m.
aklashlee said...

holdout, I can't and dont like to think about the people that die over the stupid stuff and don't take care of theirselved but what type of person would I be if i did not try to help by making alittle sacrifice? The stuff is bad, it's scary and it is VERY addictive! I don't support fast food establishments either for the same reason. Most people are addicts by nature, they just don't know it and never will but not everyone is so lucky. Oh and there is NO working cure for a meth head, that is a scam in itself!

November 3, 2011 at 7:25 p.m.
justok said...

Prescriptions for cold medicine and "Wandering Weaver" goes to Bourbon Country?

We have another case of the government punishing the people to catch the less than 1% misusing a common product, using flawed data to back up their "logic".

Now common cold remedies using ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are sold at drug stores everywhere. But those ingredients are used in producing meth too. So to "solve" the meth problem Senator Tom Jensen (R-Kentucky) will force you to go to the doctor to treat your sniffles. Doesn't make sense.

The problem isn't the medicine, the problem is how it's being misused.

Senator Jensen proposes to punish the 99% that are using the medicine correctly. Even our own Darryl Weaver, head of the Bureau of Narcotics in Oklahoma weighed in for Kentucky. In Kentucky. In Kentucky? Wandering Weaver went to Kentucky ... to help Oklahoma? How does that work?

Mr. Weaver believes the potency of home made meth is greater than that smuggled in from Mexico. Somehow he believes you shouldn't be able to get common cold tablets for your kids at the corner drug store. But the law of supply and demand exists in the illegal drug industry too. Prices are decreasing as purity levels are increasing in an effort to attract users. Purity has increased to 90 percent even as the price per gram has dropped to about $89, according to a federal Drug Enforcement Agency database and reported in the study.

But as Senator Jensen proposes to restrict your rights in a misguided effort to stop home-made meth, it ignores the ingenuity of the drug lords. According to Jane Maxwell, senior researcher at The University of Texas, meth purveyors are getting around restrictions on pseudoephedrine by turning to a manufacturing method that uses different chemicals.

"It's not surprising that meth use is rebounding", Maxwell said in the journal Addictive Behaviors in December 2011, "that's the pattern during the decades that meth has been used. It really is a cyclical pattern of use is up, we put in barriers to producing it or to prevent it from being obtained and that takes it down for a little while," she said. "But then it goes back up again." The recent down cycle occurred after sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were severely restricted. The up cycle began as makers of the drug in Mexico reverted to another method called P2P for the principal chemicals involved.

Wandering Weaver should stay home and solve our problems here.

So why is Oklahoma punishing it's law abiding residents in an effort to chase a problem that already has been side stepped by the drug lords?

January 31, 2012 at 10:30 p.m.

“Time for Law Enforcement to Back Up Its Citizens, Not Turn Its Back”

Last week I read in The Times (Pryor Creek, OK) that Diana Reeves lived in a peaceful neighborhood for 33 years. Past tense. In a house down the street, there seemed to be a lot of visitors. At first it was during the day. The visitors rapidly increased to any day and anytime. It evolved into a sort of drive up system. A car would pull over in front of the house; someone would exchange sacks and run back into the house. Then a lookout was added. After a few months of calling the sheriff, she had enough and went to the police station. No results. As any good citizen would do, she said enough and took the additional courageous step of taping the activities as well as recording vehicle license plates. Armed with some great information, she gave it to Sheriff Frank Cantey. Cantey assured her they would like to get these guys. Problem solved, results expected shortly. But over a 14 month period, only one off-duty officer stayed on her street for about 90 minutes. That’s about .00015 of 1% over the 14 month period devoted to stopping this meth house. Since the activity magically stopped during the one-time surveillance then reappeared 20 minutes after the officer left and the neighborhood NEVER had any follow up police work, one must wonder what’s actually going on. Is it deliberate indifference, other priorities (in the #1 area for pseudoephedrine sales in the state?) or something as nefarious as a Sheriff gone bad? A cheap shot at law enforcement? I don’t think so. This could have been the scenario in any town in Oklahoma. With our top narcotics enforcement agent Darryl Weaver, calling for greater regulations on Oklahoma’s law abiding citizens instead of catching these guys, is it any wonder that bad attitude has made its way to the local level? What a lazy way to solve a problem – ignore it until it gets too big, then punish those that are playing by the rules. The problem isn’t the medicine; the problem is law enforcement being viewed as lazy, not tenacious and slow to act.

With the police calling for citizen involvement and with Diana Reeves not only answering that call but going beyond what should be expected, and being ignored, I wonder what kind of message law enforcement sitting on its hands sends Oklahoma's tax paying citizens and how cheerful criminals must be smiling. Let's hope this period of law enforcement sitting on the sidelines ends soon and that good folks like Diana Reeves can go to bed at night knowing law enforcement has her back as opposed to turning their back on her and the rest of its citizenry.

February 5, 2012 at 10:38 p.m.
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