Lawmakers target common drugs used to make meth

The bill limits the amount of precursor drugs sold to two packages a month.

Brady Averill

Nearly a dozen bipartisan bills aimed at curbing methamphetamine use and production have floated through the Legislature this session.

One of the most restrictive bills – which limits the sale of precursor drugs such as Sudafed – passed the State House last week. The Senate had already passed the bill. The governor has to sign it for it to become law.

Over-the-counter cold and asthma medications that contain pseudoephedrine or ephedrine – meth precursor drugs – can be combined with other chemicals to manufacture the drug.

The bill limits the amount of precursor drugs being sold to two packages a month and restricts who is authorized to sell them.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, author of the bill, said Minnesota is following Oklahoma, where a similar bill passed last year.

The number of secret meth labs in Oklahoma, she said, has drastically been reduced.

However, she acknowledged the bill won’t prevent everyone from producing the drug.

“It will reduce it, but obviously, it would still be possible to manufacture it in other places and bring it in the state to sell,” Berglin said.

According to the bill, packages containing precursor drugs would have to be displayed behind a checkout counter where customers are not allowed. Only licensed pharmacists would be able to sell the precursor drugs.

A provision in the bill also requires photo identification and a written or electronic signature when someone makes the purchase.

Meth has been a major issue for lawmakers this session. Other bills include stiffening penalties, educating people about the drug and providing loans to cities and counties for cleaning up meth labs.

“The problem of meth has just exploded on the scene,” said Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley. “It has proven to be (a) scourge that is going to be difficult to get (our) arms around if we don’t act quickly and in a comprehensive manner.”

While not all bills have made it as far as Berglin’s, some provisions were similar to what are included in her bill.

Chaudhary said, “I think there is a strong desire to act on meth this year.”

No quick solution

Researchers are seeing an increase in meth use. Study on the drug has increased as well.

Marilyn Carroll, a University psychiatry and neuroscience professor who has been researching meth abuse for the last few years, said interest in researching the drug has increased in the last five years.

“Since it’s been popular recently, people are looking at it again,” she said.

According to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 12.4 million Americans older than 12 had tried meth at least once in their lifetimes.

In the metro area, people addicted to meth accounted for 10 percent of patients entering area addiction programs, according to a December 2004 trend report by the Butler Center for Research at the Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minn.

Carol Falkowski, research communications director at the Hazelden Foundation, researches drug use in the metro area and said meth abuse is becoming an increasing problem in Minnesota.

“Meth is a strong stimulant that appeals to anyone who feels they have too much to do and too little time,” she said.

That, coupled with the drug’s greater availability, has led to the trend, she said.

But laws restricting the sale of precursor drugs will not alone fix the problem, Falkowski said.

People can purchase the drug from out-of-state criminal organizations, she said.

“There is still plenty of supply to go around,” she said.

Her concern, she said, is lawmakers are not approaching the issue in a comprehensive way and instead are just looking at individual pieces.

Education, treatment, stronger law enforcement and precursor-drug limitations are necessary to curb meth use, Falkowski said.

Meth on campus

Though meth use is a problem in the state, it’s not a big issue on campus, said Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department.

In the last year, there have only been a handful of meth-related arrests, he said.

He said the arrests occurred during traffic stops.

Johnson said he could not recall any covert meth labs on campus where students manufactured the drug.

Anyway, he said, it would be counterproductive for a student to abuse the drug while trying to get an education.

According to a Boynton Health Service 2004 survey, 1.9 percent of respondents reported they had used amphetamines in the previous year. Approximately 2.4 percent of students between the ages of 18 and 24 said they had used amphetamines during the last year.

The designation was an umbrella category for several drugs, including meth.

Berglin said meth use and production is still a problem in neighboring states.

With the bill’s passage, maybe Minnesota can take the lead, she said.

“I believe, as each state does this, more states will follow,” she said.