Drug Policy Backfires: Controlling Meth Ingredients Fails to Cut Drug Supply

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The history of drug policy is one of unintended—though often predictable—negative consequences. The AP reports on the latest example of this phenomenon, as it relates to recent attempts to eliminate methamphetamine misuse.

Reporter Jim Salter writes:

Electronic systems that track sales of the cold medicine used to make methamphetamine have failed to curb the drug trade and instead created a vast, highly lucrative market for profiteers to buy over-the-counter pills and sell them to meth producers at a huge markup.

An Associated Press review of federal data shows that the lure of such easy money has drawn thousands of new people into the methamphetamine underworld over the last few years.

While causing annoying inconvenience to people with colds and flus, these laws have created a tremendous source of revenue for those facing foreclosure and unemployment. People willing to put their names on electronic registries and purchase the maximum legal number of packages repeatedly at multiple pharmacies can resell the $7-8 items for $40-50 to meth makers, with very little risk of arrest. (More on Time.com: What Does Meth Research Have to Do With Addiction and Autism Treatments?)

Writes Salter:

Meth-related activity is on the rise again nationally, up 34 percent in 2009, the year with the most recent figures. That number includes arrests, seizures of the drug and the discovery of abandoned meth-production sites.

The increase was higher in the three states that have electronically tracked sales of medication containing pseudoephedrine since at least 2008. Meth incidents rose a combined 67 percent in those states — 34 percent in Arkansas, 65 percent in Kentucky and 164 percent in Oklahoma.

Supporters of tracking say the numbers have spiked because the system makes it easier for police to find people who participate in meth production. But others question whether the tracking has helped make the problem worse by creating a new class of criminals that police must pursue.

So what affect has this had on use rates and treatment admissions? According to national data, the number of current meth users has been stable or slightly declining since before the laws were enacted, so it’s hard to say. Clearly, however, availability and supply are not a problem— and many new positions in the criminal job market have been created generating something of an unintended stimulant stimulus.

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