Editorial

Thwarting meth

Monday, February 11, 2008

For a time after Missouri, in 2005, limited access to over-the-counter cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the number of methamphetamine labs in the state declined. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the making of meth. But it didn't take the meth makers long to figure out ways to get around Missouri's new law.

The law requires medicines with pseudoephedrine to be kept behind the counter. It also requires photo identification to make purchases, limits how much cold medicine can be purchased each month and requires pharmacies to keep logs of all sales.

Meth makers quickly learned -- as have countless inconvenienced, law-abiding citizens with clogged sinuses -- that cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine can be purchased in large quantities by involving friends and relatives in making multiple purchases and by going to many pharmacies (called smurfing) to buy the maximum amounts of the cold medicines.

With only paper records, which require law enforcement to visit each pharmacy, to detect buying patterns, it has been difficult to effectively use the new law to nab meth makers. State Sen. Norma Champion of Springfield, Mo., has proposed legislation that would create an electronic database of purchases that would be immediately accessible, allowing law enforcement to track multiple sales of cold medicines by purchaser and location.

Assuming Champion's proposal is affordable, it would make sense to have as much data at the fingertips of law enforcement as possible. And the state likely would see another dip in meth labs. But for how long? Now is the time to give some thought to how meth makers would get around this new hurdle so they can be thwarted from the outset.

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