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Cold pill restrictions needed

Editorial for June 9, 2005

Several states have been taking some bold steps to try to hamper the manufacture of methamphetamine, and it's time for the Washington Legislature to do the same.

In Oregon, legislators are considering what would once have been seen as a drastic step: sharp restrictions on selling over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. The Washington Legislature passed some restrictions earlier this year, but they really don't go far enough: they exempted liquid and gel-caps, which have now been shown to be as easy to convert into meth as the hard pills.

The problem is that one of the key ingredients in these medications is "pseudoephedrine," which is essential in creating meth. Meth cooks have been going into stores and supermarkets and simply purchasing hundreds of these common cold and sinus decongestant pills, then processing them into methamphetamine. Approximately 300 cold pills can be turned into about 25 does of meth, according to a U.S. Senate report.

A year ago in Oklahoma, the state passed a law a year ago that bans cold tablets with pseudoephedrine from retail outlets. Now, only pharmacies are allowed to dispense these tablets, and those buying the pills are required to show photo identification and sign a log when they purchase the medicine. As a result of the new law, the number of meth labs in the state was reported to have dropped by 80 percent after this bill went into effect.

The meth cooks have been producing methamphetamine in makeshift and highly toxic labs. These drug labs -- so far this year in Washington state, more than 400 have been discovered -- produce toxins that can poison people and the environment.

Just last week, the Washington Department of Ecology issued a chilling alert: Meth cooks have been dumping their lab waste at local, state, and national parks and campgrounds. WDOE officials put out a warning to families and outdoor recreationalists to look out for "suspicious products" including propane tanks, starter fluid, shredded lithium batteries, lye, empty cold medicine packages, glass jars, funnels, hypodermic needles, plastic tubing, and containers of acetone, toluene, and Coleman fuel. If used in the manufacturing of meth, these items can contain chemicals that will attack your eyes and lungs.

Also, the material being dumped in the woods can be flammable -- yet another offshoot problem of the meth trade, given the likely high fire danger our region is facing.

The entire meth "industry" is a scourge all across this nation, in rural and urban settings alike. The drug highly addictive and highly destructive to a user's physical health. In addition, meth users can turn violently unstable.

Meth is destroying lives, overwhelming our law enforcement agencies, draining financial resources, and trashing our environs.

Unfortunately, big drug companies that make these cold pill products still seem to be more concerned about their profits than the general health and welfare of the citizens of this country, and have been fighting any restrictions on sales. But in recent months their lobbying has, thankfully, been increasingly ineffective in the face of the many problems meth use has been generating.

Our elected representatives in the Washington Legislature -- State Reps. Bruce Chandler and Dan Newhouse, and State Sen. Jim Honeyford -- can help the cause by supporting restrictions on the sale of these medicines in our state. This is a crisis that won't wait.



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