|Updated: 10/04/2011 11:53 am
||Published: 10/03/2011 8:43 am
Meth is a problem that just will not stop.
This year, Tulsa Police with the Special Investigations Division report they’ve busted 327 meth labs, that’s a record number since at least 1998.
In 2010, police report there were 323.
Police believe the one-pot meth method is easier to make, more potent and doesn’t require as much pseudoephedrine in each batch but it’s more volatile.
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris says four out of ten cases are meth labs and since 2008, six people have died in meth lab fires.
Now Oklahoma lawmakers and police want to make it tougher for meth makers to get their hands on the key ingredient to make the drug, the same drug used to help fight allergies.
“These are the facts, look at the facts,” says Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Director Darrell Weaver.
He reports since Oregon passed a similar law in 2006, the crime rate hit a 50-year low, 35% reduction in meth-related emergency room visits, 32% reduction in meth arrests and prosecutions, meth labs have nearly dissolved and not one documented case of pseudoephedrine obtained by a prescription has been diverted to a meth lab.
Mississippi just passed a similar law.
Weaver testified meth labs across the state jumped from 148 in 2007 to 818 in 2010.
A Bartlesville baby died in a washing machine in 2010 after her mother was suspected of being high on meth.
"The first time in a long time we can have a positive affect on the meth issue,” says Weaver.
Meanwhile, meth makers are using fake id’s and recruiting people like the homeless known as ‘smurfs’ to buy the cold medicine for $50 to $100 a box.
"Meth and the cooks are like a cancer, they are not going to stop on their own, they are not going to wake up one day and say they are just good old boys and we are just going to quit making this, quit burning down buildings and quit killing babies,” says Weaver.
However, those including the Oklahoma Medical Association who testified in support of prescribed pseudoephedrine are facing tough opposition.
"Going prescription, this state would be going backwards and it has always led the country," says drug lobbyist for Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), Carlos Gutierrez.
He flew in from Washington D.C. to testify Oklahoma needs a more accurate tracking system such as NPLEx, one that uses an interstate tracking system to block meth offenders from purchasing the drug.
"Unfortunately, the prescription only pseudoephedrine advocates sort of say this is a silver bullet unfortunately it isn't. It has to be multi-pronged, we should definitely stop the sale tracking across state lines,” says Gutierrez.
Weaver reports making pseudoephedrine (PSE) a prescription only affects 17 of the 117 decongestants.
Weaver reports Oklahoma has the most sophisticated tracking system and has reports $93,000 PSE sales were blocked since 2005.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy on average each meth lab costs $350,000.
If that’s the case meth labs have cost Tulsans more than $114 million this year. "What's happening with methamphetamine is draining my resources, draining resources with law enforcement,” says Harris.
The Tulsa Apartment Association says they can’t rent units until it has been remediated and clean up can cost apartments $6,000 to $300,000.
Not mention the innocent residents and employees on the premises that are exposed to the toxic chemicals.
"It's a battle that we are facing constantly and we're trying to keep our residents safe ultimately,” says Tulsa Apartment Association Director Kerri Cooper.
Daviess County Sheriff in Kentucky also testified and referred to NPLEx tracking system as the ‘meth check’ and says it works and PSE prescription will not.
He says NPLEx tracks in real-time and works across stateliness.
"It helps us locate and prosecute these individuals,” says Sheriff Keith Cain.
An undercover officer for the Tulsa Police Special Investigations Division says they don’t use smurfing as the only evidence to build a case and they don’t have the resources to sit at pharmacies and bust ‘smurfs’.
They support prescribed PSE in all forms.
Sheriff Cain admits while he supports the tracking system, meth labs in his county have increased.
That’s why the anti-drug agents say more needs to be done.
"We can track all day long folks, we’ve been doing it since 2005 and it's not going to solve it,” says Weaver. "I am going to keep fighting. I am going to fight for what I think is right and want to make Oklahoma safer and that's my job."
A similar law failed last year in the House of Representatives.
After Holdenville, Wagoner, Chouteau, McAlester and Okmulgee passed similar ordinances, Oklahoma’s Attorney General concluded it’s not legal for cities to take action.
Some of those cities have ignored the AG’s recommendation.
There’s also the debate on whether to prescribe all pseudoephedrine or exclude gel tabs.
Tulsa Police report there have been no reports of gel tabs used in a one-pot meth lab.
However, police report meth makers in Tennessee have been making more abundant and time-consuming batches using gel tabs but the pseudoephedrine needs to be extracted from the gel tab.
The Oklahoma Medical Association once opposed PSE prescription now supports the idea. Chairman for OMA testified today and so did David Starkey, with stopemethlabs.com.
Those opposed to the idea Jim Aquisto of Appriss who makes the tracking system NPLEx, Dani Lynch of Thrifty Pharmacies, former DEA and pharmaceutical consultant Robert Bianchi testified against PSE prescription.
TPD SID officers, Office of the State Fire Marshal, Tulsa County Child Protection Coalition and the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, District #13 District Attorney, Sand Springs Police, Representative Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs and Tulsa pharmacist Toan Nguyen are scheduled to testify on Tuesday.
Under the proposal making pseudoephedrine a Schedule III drug would only require one doctor’s visit, five refills after that and with a good relationship with your doctor you can get your prescription refilled over the phone.
There is no action in hearing on the interim study on the research of pseudoephedrine sales. Senator Kim david, R-Wagoner hopes to propose a similar proposal. Last year Representative Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau introduced HB 1235 which required a prescription for pseudoephedrine in dry tablet but it was never called on the floor for a vote.
The hearing continued Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. To listen in click the attached link and click on “Room 419-C.”