In the New York Times this morning, Kate Zernike has an item detailing the futility of what Kip Esquire calls the "War on Sniffles" -- restrictions by states on sale of pseudoephedrine products aimed at reducing methamphetamine production (See "Potent Mexican meth floods in as states curb domestic variety," NYT, Jan. 23).
I've discussed these laws in the past and the absurdly counterproductive results we've seen from them in Texas and Oklahoma. From a public safety perspective, they've been a complete bust, mostly because:
"The Mexican drug cartels were right there to feed that demand," said Tom Cunningham, the drug task force coordinator for the district attorneys council for Oklahoma, the first state to put pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters, in 2004. "They have always supplied marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. When we took away the local meth lab, they simply added methamphetamine to the truck."Most interesting to me, not only have these new laws failed to reduce drug use or prevent Mexican suppliers from entering the market, they've actually increased the number of overdoses and drug-related thefts, thus reducing public safety where the laws have been enacted. Reported Zernike:
Sometimes called ice, crystal methamphetamine is far purer, and therefore even more highly addictive, than powdered home-cooked methamphetamine, a change that health officials say has led to greater risk of overdose. And because crystal methamphetamine costs more, the police say thefts are increasing, as people who once cooked at home now have to buy it. ...I'll bet the politicians who passed these ill-conceived laws don't put that quote on their campaign literature. Much of the overhyped political rhetoric surrounding the passage of Texas' law centered on protecting children of meth users. "Don't you care about children exposed to dangerous drugs?," a legislative staffer asked me last year. The implication was that opposition to pseudoephedrine restrictions meant you didn't care about children, but the Times reports that the situation may have actually worsened, and certainly didn't improve, as a result of the new laws:
"Our burglaries have just skyrocketed," said Jerry Furness, who represents Buchanan County, 150 miles northeast of Des Moines, on the Iowa drug task force. "The state asks how the decrease in meth labs has reduced danger to citizens, and it has, as far as potential explosions. But we've had a lot of burglaries where the occupants are home at the time, and that's probably more of a risk."
although child welfare officials say they are removing fewer children from homes where parents are cooking the drug, the number of children being removed from homes where parents are using it has more than made up the difference.So at best the law was a wash for kids, at worst more kids are exposed to meth use in the home. So what's the solution? It's the same as it ever was: reducing demand. Reducing supply in a vacuum just creates lucrative business opportunities for new suppliers. As one of the Times' sources put it:
"You can't legislate away demand," said Betty Oldenkamp, secretary of human services in South Dakota, where the governor this month proposed tightening a law that last year restricted customers to two packs of pseudoephedrine per store. "The law enforcement aspects are tremendously important, but we also have to do something to address the demand."Actually it might be possible to "legislate" demand, or at least to legislate programs that help addicts fight their addiction instead of ostracizing and incarcerating them. You can only reduce demand one person at a time, and addicts won't seek help if they think they'll be imprisoned for decades as a result. A commitment to demand reduction would require that the same politicians who brought us the "tuff on crime" approach to the War on Sniffles shift gears, embracing pragmatism and eschewing demagoguery.
I wouldn't hold my breath.
See prior Grits coverage of this topic:
- Oklahoma meth law overhyped
- Tradeoffs: Mexican cartels boost meth involvement
- Oklahoma meth law not working
- Pseudoephedrine restrictions raise fears of more addiction, more overdoses and more violence
- Drug courts = solution to meth epidemic in Piney Woods