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Methamphetamines Remain a Quiet Scourge

11.08.15 – Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World

Meth labs may not be blowing up apartments or setting cars on fire as much as they used to, but methamphetamine continues to be a big problem — and a big business — in Tulsa.

“Tulsa has a culture of being a methamphetamine town,” said Tulsa Police Department Cpl. Mike Griffin. “The demand for meth hasn’t changed.”

A nationally recognized authority on drug crimes, Griffin testified earlier this year before a congressional hearing on heroin and prescription-drug abuse. Those drugs have become a new focus in the media and with some lawmakers, but Griffin said meth, because of cost and availability, “has always been the biggest” of the most dangerous illegal drugs.

Oklahoma and other states countered the rise in local meth production with laws in 2004 and 2012 that made it more difficult to buy large quantities of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a basic ingredient in home-cooked meth.

The number of meth labs found by Tulsa police dropped dramatically, at least in part because of the laws, but meth use did not. Dealers simply began importing it from Mexico.

Griffin and others say the pseudoephedrine laws did what they were intended to do — shut down labs, which tend to explode, catch on fire and leave behind a deadly residue that turns houses, apartments and trailers into hazardous-waste zones.

“I worked the death of a 15-month-old child” killed in a meth fire, Griffin said. “I don’t want to have to ever do that again.”

So the explosions from larger-scale meth labs have been drastically reduced, and so have the smaller fires from the small-batch “shake and bake” method devised after passage of the 2004 pseudoephedrine law.

Putting meth dealers out of business, though, is dependent on something local law enforcement can’t control — border interdiction.

“If we’re ever going to fix it, that’s the issue,” Griffin said. “The Mexican drug cartels have flooded the market with cheap methamphetamine.”

Alex Brill, an expert on drug policy with the American Enterprise Institute, agrees. He released a study last week that says the border is the only place authorities have a chance to control meth.

“Given the way the markets have evolved, this is probably something the states are not best equipped to grapple with,” Brill said. “This may be something for national border control.”

Brill’s study looks primarily at Mississippi and Oregon, the two states that have made pseudoephedrine available by prescription only, something Oklahoma previously considered but is no longer contemplating.

Brill said prescription-only laws don’t seem to have had any more effect than purchase restrictions such as Oklahoma’s, but have increased costs and inconvenience for legitimate users of the drug.

Read more here.