Bad Medicine

Locking up cold medicine makes the politicians feel good -- but it won't put a dent in Arizona's meth habit

"Are you kidding?" asked one, a 20-year-old kid named Joe who's been using since his freshman year in high school. "Nobody even knows how to make it."

The survey, while admittedly unscientific, is backed up by the DEA.

"These Mexican gangs are providing hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of meth," says Tom Marble, clandestine lab coordinator for the DEA's Phoenix division. "A large number of labs have closed. But more people than ever are addicted to meth.

"In reality, the Mexican meth outnumbers the local stuff 100 to 1 -- and it's introduced people to using who'd never dream of making their own."

And it's not just in border states like Arizona.

It's even happening now in Oklahoma.

As part of a series on crystal meth, the Portland Oregonian reported earlier this year that Oklahoma's pseudoephedrine laws had brought about an unexpected consequence. Drug investigators told the newspaper that immediately after the laws went into effect, the Mexican cartels moved in.

And why not? The laws may have decimated the drug supply, but the demand was still huge.

Indeed, despite all the ink that's been spilled on the success of Oklahoma's legislation, it's worth remembering that the oft-cited "71 percent reduction" measures one thing only: the number of meth-lab busts.

There's been no correlation, in Oklahoma, to a drop in meth use.

Property crime hasn't dropped, nor have arrests for use.

Tucson Police Captain David Neri attended a recent conference where he heard from fellow officers in states where Oklahoma-style legislation has been approved.

"They all demonstrated drastic reduction in the tabletop labs," Neri says. "But the sad truth is that the usage stats don't change."

In every case, Mexican gangs moved in to sate the demand.


By earlier this year, it should have been clear to anyone studying the meth issue that Arizona had a problem that Oklahoma-style legislation wasn't going to fix.

Drugs coming from Mexico. People using. People needing treatment.

But no one in Arizona government seemed particularly interested in studying the problem. No one was discussing the issues of use and abuse.

What they were talking about was additional restrictions for pseudoephedrine. Just like Oklahoma.

The chief proponent of adopting the Oklahoma laws here has been Attorney General Terry Goddard. He got the plan endorsed by no fewer than 50 law enforcement agencies, including every county attorney in the state except one. (The holdout? Maricopa County's own Andy Thomas, who did not return calls for comment.)

Goddard even teamed up with a Republican, state Representative O'Halleran, to sell the plan in the House. It helped that O'Halleran is a former narcotics detective.

But though O'Halleran introduced the legislation, Republican leadership assigned it to three different committees, none of whose leaders would give it a hearing, much less a vote.

Meanwhile, the state Senate passed a weaker version. The Senate plan, proposed by Barbara Leff (R-Paradise Valley), was notable for its harsh punishment of meth cooks who worked with children present: They would face sentences as lengthy as child molesters, with a presumption of 20 years in prison and no chance of probation.

But while Leff's bill limited purchases to nine grams of tablet pseudoephedrine, it junked the idea of the logbook. And that nine-gram limit was per purchase, not per month.

To Goddard, who was intent on nothing less than the full Oklahoma plan, that was a total cop-out.

"It's not even halfway there," he says.

When Leff's version was sent to the House for its approval, O'Halleran made his last stand. He tacked on amendments, adding the logbook and the "per month" requirement.

The House easily approved the plan.

But Leff had the last word. The amended version was sent back to her to see if she'd agree to the changes.

She wouldn't.

The new state law would have no logbook and no new per-month limit.

In interviews with New Times, both Goddard and O'Halleran blamed lobbyists for the retailers associations and pharmaceutical companies.

And both groups, admittedly, fought O'Halleran's bill. But Leff says they had nothing to do with her personal feelings about it.

"I think what the attorney general wanted was stupid," she says. "I have done my homework. We shouldn't make laws that sound good when we know they aren't going to work."

But though Leff thought she'd settled the issue, she had a rude awakening ahead, as did the retailer and food marketing associations.

Goddard was so intent on getting tougher pseudoephedrine laws that he couldn't even wait for the next legislative session. He didn't wait until Leff's plan became law, on October 31.

In an interview with New Times, he notes that 60 percent of cases handled by Child Protective Services involve parents using meth. (That's different from making meth, but he doesn't mention that.)

"It is horrifying," Goddard says. "It is every day. And it has to stop. I don't believe we have the luxury of waiting another year."

Beginning in late summer, Goddard made a series of visits to cities around the state and asked them to pass ordinances of their own -- just like the Oklahoma law.

In his presentation to Phoenix leaders this past August, Goddard didn't mention the falling numbers of meth labs. He didn't talk about people who need treatment.

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2 comments
jay
jay

I am currently writing a story about my brothers meth addiction in Arizona, currently he is in a mental institution as he is convinced people are trying black mail him for murder and money, they have all these micro devices around him tracking his every move, they can threaten him through this devices if he does not do what they tell him, there is plenty more, but my main issue is that alot of the in Arizona comes from the Indian Reservations and law enforcement can not do a thing and the goverment will not help, this is simply crazy, those reservations should be raided once its proved the meth has come from it, 1/2 the goverment must be on the stuff because CRYSTAL METH IS MORE OF THREAT TO THIS COUNTRY THEN TERRORISM,

jay
jay

I am currently writing a story about my brothers meth addiction in Arizona, currently he is in a mental institution as he is convinced people are trying black mail him for murder and money, they have all these micro devices around him tracking his every move, they can threaten him through this devices if he does not do what they tell him, there is plenty more, but my main issue is that alot of the in Arizona comes from the Indian Reservations and law enforcement can not do a thing and the goverment will not help, this is simply crazy, those reservations should be raided once its proved the meth has come from it, 1/2 the goverment must be on the stuff because CRYSTAL METH IS MORE OF THTREAT TO THIS COUNTRY THEN TERRORISM,

 
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