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War Far From Over In Oklahoma’s Fight Against Meth Use

WHEN government closes a window, the market opens a door. Sadly, this describes the methamphetamine problem in Oklahoma.

This state has been a national leader in the meth manufacturing crackdown, finding ways to restrict the purchase of ingredients used to cook meth. But as fewer meth “labs” are being found and shut down by state authorities, the number of meth-related overdose deaths continues to rise.

The reason is that the domestic supply disruption has been met with a foreign supply influx. This isn’t a new development, but the latest numbers are startling. Meth demand isn’t going down, but the supply chain has added more links to Mexico.

Meth labs shut down by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD) fell from 830 in 2012 to 421 in 2013. Meth overdose deaths rose from 140 in 2012 to 167 last year.

Meth users are buying product brought in by Mexican cartels. This is happening partly in response to the home-grown meth lab crackdown. Also, the Mexican stuff’s quality is apparently improving.

“The Mexican cartels are filling the void left by these people who still need meth but can’t cook it anymore,” said Mark Woodward, spokesman for OBNDD.

Fewer labs mean fewer accidents such as explosions and fires that destroy property and harm people not involved in the meth cook itself. That’s the good news. The bad is that such labs still exist and users are dying at an increasing rate: The 167 meth overdose deaths last year compares to 40 in 2008.

Meanwhile, a legislator is pushing a registry for those convicted of meth manufacturing. State Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, likens this to the sex offender registry. In principle, citizens can learn whether any registered sex offenders live near their homes. In practice, though, this method has shortcomings. Resources must be found to keep track of offenders, to make sure they report address changes. Also, the system can concentrate offenders in certain areas in which landlords look the other way when renting residential space. Such concentrations expose nearby residents to a higher risk if they can’t move to a safer area.

The war on drugs continues apace but in the case of meth is shifting from restrictions on pseudoephedrine purchases and lab shutdowns to tracking drug shipments from Mexico. OBNDD agents, freed from some of their lab crackdown duties, have more time to work against the cartels.

This is likely a never-ending battle — or war. The Drug Policy Alliance, a critic of the so-called war on drugs, says many myths surround meth — including that it’s always instantly addictive, meth addictions are harder to treat than other substance abuse addictions, and meth use is on the rise nationwide.

Other sources paint a different picture, one in which meth is highly addictive, addictions are difficult to treat and meth use is not static. If the OBNDD’s fatal overdose statistics are to be believed, then the meth problem in Oklahoma is not getting better.

In our view, no amount of meth intake is healthy. While not all meth overdoses result in a fatality, meth usage leads to continuing health problems.

We applaud the OBNDD and state policymakers for their diligence in fighting the meth scourge. It’s clear that the battle to reduce makeshift labs is being won, but the war is far from over.