Bad Medicine

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

He talked about children found in meth labs, dirty and desperate. (In the past six years, investigators have found 263 children in Maricopa County labs, according to records provided by the Phoenix Police Department.)

"We don't solve the problem by cutting back on pseudoephedrine," Goddard acknowledged. "But we do make a tremendous impact."

In September, the Phoenix City Council approved the legislation. Sedona, Pinetop, Tucson and Scottsdale have since followed suit. Glendale is also considering it.

"If you know you have a solution to the problem," asks Phoenix City Councilman Dave Siebert, "how can you not do it?"


The legislation Goddard pushed for the state would have only restricted tablet-form pseudoephedrine, leaving out the majority of products that use the ingredient, which are liquids and gel caps. That's what Oklahoma did, after all.

But after he pushed the Phoenix City Council to act, the council decided to do more.

Much more.

The idea came from the cops.

Sherrard, the Phoenix police sergeant, advised the city council on its pseudoephedrine ordinance. And, like any good cop, he thought it might be better to be ahead of the curve.

He'd seen meth cooks evolve to get around new laws before -- the blister packs that Sudafed is sold in, in fact, were created because no one thought tweakers would have the patience to pop out thousands of tablets before cooking them. But the clever cooks actually devised a machine to do the popping.

"They're ingenious," Sherrard says.

So he suggested the Phoenix City Council go a little further. With tablets banned, meth cooks, he reasoned, were sure to turn to gel caps and liquid cold medicines with pseudoephedrine. He asked the council to restrict those, too.

"For the first time in law enforcement history, I thought we could be a little proactive instead of playing catch-up," he says. (Iowa, too, was ahead of the curve, passing laws to restrict all pseudoephedrine earlier this year.)

But a study published in the DEA-funded Microgram Journal in January 2005 suggests that Sherrard's idea of "proactive" may be closer to "over-the-top."

Funded by McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, which makes Tylenol, the study reported that, yes, virtually any form of pseudoephedrine -- liquid cold medicines, gel caps, even combo products like Tylenol Cold that are packed with other active ingredients -- could eventually be turned into crystal meth.

But it wouldn't be cheap: By the time Sudafed is converted to meth, about half of the pseudoephedrine is left.

For medicine like Tylenol Cold/Severe Congestion, it's more like 5 percent, according to the Microgram study.

And that's in a controlled lab, using the best practices available. Some law enforcement tests have only been able to get a 25 percent yield from Sudafed; their results from products like Tylenol Cold would likely be even lower.

Police officers in both Tucson and Phoenix admit they're not actually seeing such products in meth labs. Neither does the DEA.

"The source really hasn't changed," Marble says. "They're using blister packs of Sudafed."

But the Phoenix City Council wasn't talking about any of that. At the committee meeting to discuss the proposed ordinance, the idea of applying the restrictions to all pseudoephedrine was taken as a given.

The ordinances passed unanimously.

Beginning this week, as they go into effect, hundreds of products untouched by Oklahoma's law will be affected.

Bashas' grocery stores, for example, sell 156 different products with pseudoephedrine, from Dimetapp to Motrin, says Karen Giroux, director of regulatory agency relations for the Chandler-based chain.

They'll all have to move behind the counter. In every case, customers will have to sign the log.

Giroux says Bashas' has decided to stop carrying a large percentage of the products.

"We just don't have space for all of them," she says.

To politicians who haven't read the studies, who assume all cold medicine is one easy step away from crystal meth, a decision like that counts as good news.

"If we can get it down to just six products with pseudoephedrine, I think that's great," says Phoenix Councilman Siebert. "Instead of a dozen, let's only have a few."

Even if it wasn't just the inconvenience to consumers, though, there may be another unintended consequence of including so many products.

It involves the logbook.

Unlike in Oklahoma, where customers only had to sign when they were buying Sudafed or Claritin-D, customers in Phoenix will have to sign when they purchase things like Tylenol Cold.

Or Robitussin.

Or 150 other products.

It's going to be a fat book.

The ordinance requires the stores to fax the contents of the logbook to the police department each month. But the city council didn't earmark any funds for a database to record them, or even an officer to punch the data into a computer.

At this point, it's unclear how the reams of paper will be processed -- or if they will be processed, at all.

"Hey, the ordinance says they have to send it to the chief of the police," says Sherrard. "That means it's not my problem."

He's joking, of course, but he admits the city doesn't have a plan in place, yet.

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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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