Stopping Supply At The Source

Superlabs require large amounts of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, and can produce 100,000 doses of meth, compared to home labs that produce about 300 doses.11 Because of this need, cartels are reliant on the nine international sources for their supply. DEA authorities believe that the spread of meth can be halted if these precursor chemicals are regulated at their international sources and in the countries that import them. The DEA would like to see that countries import only enough of the chemicals needed to satisfy legitimate national demand for pseudoephedrine and ephedrine-containing cold and cough remedies.11, 52, 53


In April 2004, Oklahoma was the first state to enact meth legislation. The state classified ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as Schedule V drugs. This meant the medicines containing these chemicals had to be kept behind a pharmacist's counter or in a locked case, and the buyer of this medication had to show photo identification, sign a logsheet, and be over the age of 18. Most important, the sale of these medicines was now extremely limited without a prescription from a doctor. Oklahoma saw an immediate reduction (51 percent) in the number of meth lab seizures between 2004 and 2005. Over the next several years, 35 states passed similar laws.10, 12

Other important meth strategies have been unfolding over the past two years. In California, there was a noticeable increase in pseudoephedrine originating from China once the Canadian supply diminished. China has one of the world's largest chemical industries. Hong Kong in particular was also a source of pseudoephedrine tablets being diverted to Mexican labs. The United States, Mexico, and China worked out a commitment to regulate the shipments, and in November 2005, China passed its first law on precursor chemicals aimed at preventing their illicit use.12

Meth's precursors, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and chemicals used in its manufacture, including iodine and red phosphorus, were being auctioned through the popular Web site eBay. The DEA and eBay reached an agreement, and eBay no longer allows these products to be auctioned on their site. The DEA expected to reach similar agreements with Google and Yahoo.12


Passed in March 2006, this federal anti-meth law is the first to address the meth problem from all angles, including precursor control, international controls, environmental regulation, and criminal prosecution. The law fills in many of the loopholes of

Ephedrine Cold Medicn
Figure 8.3 New laws sharply limit the quantity of over-the-counter drugs containing ephedrine that a customer may purchase at one time. © Darron Cummings/AP Images

prior anti-meth laws, including the blister-pack conundrum that previously allowed unlimited sales of cold medicines in blister packs. Now ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products can be bought only in very limited quantities (two packages), regardless of their packaging. This law is similar to many state laws, requiring medicines that contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine be stored in locked cabinets, purchasers sign a logbook, etc. It also allows prosecution of meth manufacturers for polluting water and dumping hazardous waste, and requires a convicted meth manufacturer to pay for the cleanup from the lab scene. The DEA designed a new category under the Controlled Substances Act for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, creating opportunities for more severe penalties of convicted meth traffickers and manufacturers.41, 54

The United States and Mexico have formed a partnership to address the production and trafficking of meth. In May

2006, an anti-methamphetamine initiative was announced between the two countries. Among other things, Mexico has placed new import quotas on pseudoephedrine and will allow only licensed pharmacies to sell medicines containing pseudoephedrine.11

The effectiveness of these measures remains to be seen. After every federal anti-meth regulation has passed, the Mexican cartels have found ways to adapt. Now that Mexico is regulating its pseudoephedrine imports, the cartels may adjust again by moving to other countries in Latin America or by importing finished meth from Asia, where the drug is very popular. Time will tell what effect these new laws have on the supply and demand of meth.11, 23, 26


During the 1990s, the pharmaceutical maker of Sudafed (Pfizer) tried including additives that would make it harder for meth cooks to extract pseudoephedrine. Tests showed that the body had difficulty absorbing the decongestant because of the additives, and the work was abandoned.

Pfizer now has another version of Sudafed on the market called Sudafed PE. It contains the decongestant phenylephrine that cannot be turned into meth. Other companies are beginning to put phenylephrine into their cold remedies, as well as other alternatives that are not meth precursors. However, it is unclear whether these products will be as successful for consumers or meet the pharmaceutical companies' financial goals.

We saw in Chapter Three that the /-form of methamphetamine does not have the same effects as the d-form. In the same way, there is a possible solution in a "mirror image" form of pseudoephedrine because it cannot be turned into methamphetamine. But product development has not been pursued because getting FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval would be a long, expensive road for Pfizer. Although Congress has allocated millions of dollars to study the effects of meth on the brain, and the damage it causes, it has not significantly financed research into a cold remedy that cannot be turned into meth.11


There are three underlying principles that help provide an understanding of current U.S. drug law. First, the levels of punishment for a drug violation are based on the amount of the drug that one possesses or distributes. Second, the penalties for a second offense are harsher than the penalties for a first offense. Third, state drug laws differ from each other and from those established by the federal legal system. (Even though some states follow the penalty standards set by the federal government, they are not required to do so).54

Possession of small amounts of some drugs can be considered a misdemeanor, while possession of larger amounts of drugs are often considered felonies, depending upon the most recent definitions of the drug laws and whether the offender is charged with a state or federal drug law violation. A misdemeanor is a civil offense that might result in a fine, public service, or a short prison sentence (less than one year). A felony is a criminal offense; once convicted, felons not only face massive fines and lengthy prison terms, but also lose the ability to obtain student and small-business loans, governmental grants and employment, and even rights of American citizenship as basic as voting.54

The federal penalties for drug trafficking are harsh. A first offense conviction for the possession, manufacture, or distribution of five to 49 grams of pure meth (or 50 to 499 grams mixture) carries a five-to-40-year jail sentence along with a fine of up to $2 million. A second offense conviction for the same amount of meth carries a 10-year-to-life jail sentence, and a fine of up to $4 million. These penalties increase if even larger quantities of meth are involved. In addition, the new anti-meth law passed this year makes the penalties even tougher. Cooking or dealing methamphetamine in the presence of children raises the federal penalty by up to 20 additional years in prison.54

The new law also increases federal penalties for retail and wholesale distributors of any medicines containing the chemical precursors or equipment and chemicals that can be used in a meth lab. Any person who knowingly and "recklessly" exceeds the sales limit, does not require identification, does not use a log book, or fails to follow any of the other regulations is guilty of a first offense, which includes up to a $25,000 fine and up to a year in prison. Penalties increase with repeated offenses.54

In Canada, the maximum penalty for production and distribution of methamphetamine has increased from 10 years to life in prison.54


The first juvenile court in the United States was established in Illinois in 1899. The juvenile justice system was founded on the principle of rehabilitation, with a focus on the offender, not the offense. In the 1950s and 1960s, many experts began to question the ability of the juvenile court to effectively rehabilitate delinquent youth; by the 1980s, the pendulum began to swing away from this rehabilitative approach toward more severe sanctions for juvenile offenders. By the 1990s, this turnabout was completed as authorities more strongly enforced the legal standards of juvenile crime.

The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program collects data from juvenile and adult arrestees across the country. Data were collected from more than 2,000 juvenile male arrestees in nine sites, and more than 400 juvenile female arrestees in eight sites. Usually half or more of juvenile arrestees tested positive for at least one drug. Juvenile arrestees interviewed by ADAM ranged from ages 12 to 18. In 2000, the largest proportion was between ages 15 and 17. Among those who tested positive for use of any drug, the largest group was age 17. In half of the sites, 70 percent of the juvenile detainees said they were still in school, ranging from 55 percent in Phoenix, Arizona, to 93 percent in San Antonio, Texas.49


In 1982, the movement to send drug users to jail accelerated nationwide during the Reagan Administration's "War on Drugs." In state after state, penalties have become ever more severe in the last 25 years.

As of 2005, America imprisoned 2.1 million people, a record number that appears to keep rising each year. In 1985, the national incarceration rate was 313 per 100,000; in 2005, it was 715 per 100,000. The United States imprisons more people than does all of Europe, despite the fact that Europe has 100 million more people.10

According to the President's 2007 National Drug Control Strategy, education is a key component of preventing drug use and abuse, and thereby reducing demand for methamphet-amine. However, between 1985 and 2000, states spent six times more money for prisons than for schools.10

The driving force behind the increase in incarceration may be the stricter penalties for drug offenders. But does it work? Eighty percent of people in prison have a drug problem, and many states are reexamining their policies, distinguishing between two questions: Is this a meth addict who has become a criminal to support his or her addiction? Or, is this a criminal with a drug addiction?10, 51

The Drug Court Program provides alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders such as drug addicts. It uses the corrective power of the court to alter drug behavior, with a goal of abstinence and a healthy return to society. It costs about $35,000 a year to imprison a meth addict, and it costs about $18,000 to send that person to a drug treatment program. Drug Court uses a combination of escalating sanctions, mandatory drug testing, treatment, and strong aftercare programs.10, 51

Many states believe in this program's effectiveness. Minnesota has approved a measure that will shave off half of an inmate's sentence after completing a drug treatment program. Kansas mandates an 18-month drug treatment program for some offenders. Re-arrest rates for people that have gone through the drug courts are much lower (16 percent) than those who have not gone through drug treatment programs (about 55 percent).51, 12

Methamphetamine affects all aspects of a user's life— physical, mental, and social. The initial euphoria it produces is quickly replaced with depression and ruin. There is nothing magical about meth, aside from the speed with which it steals a person's health, alienates his or her family and friends, and thrusts users on a downward spiral. Personal experiences shared in this book attest to this drug's destructiveness. And while statistics show that teen meth use has declined slightly over the past few years, many teenagers still suffer from meth dependency and addiction. Stricter federal and state penalties for meth use, possession, manufacture, or distribution, coupled with tighter regulation of prescriptions and more specifically targeted treatment programs have helped curb meth's reach. Still, the ultimate responsibility for abstinence rests with each individual. Staying informed about the effects of drugs such as methamphetamine has never been easier. With numerous organizations, school educational programs, and Web sites debunking the myths of methamphetamine, people are better equipped to face life's challenges and make healthy decisions.

acupuncture—A method, originally from China, of treating disorders by inserting needles into the skin at points where the flow of energy (Chi) is thought to be blocked. anhedonia—The inability to feel pleasure.

anorexia—A persistent lack of appetite; an eating disorder where a person is in extreme fear of becoming overweight and excessively diets to the point of ill-health and sometimes death. biorhythms—The body's natural cycles, such as sleeping and waking.

bronchodilator—A drug often used in the treatment of asthma that eases breathing by widening and relaxing the air passages to the lungs. carcinogen—A substance that can cause cancer. clandestine—Secret or furtive, and usually illegal.

cognitive behavior therapy—Therapy that focuses on how individuals think about what they feel or do.

electrolyte—An important ion in cells and blood, such as sodium and potassium.

euphoria—A feeling of great joy, excitement, or well-being.

extracted—To obtain something from a source, usually by separating it out from other material. flammable—Readily capable of catching fire. formication—A strong sensation of bugs crawling beneath the skin. group therapy—A form of treatment in which patients, under the supervision of a counselor or psychologist, discuss their problems with a group of people who are also undergoing treatment.

half-life—The amount of time it take for half the amount of a drug or substance to be metabolized by the body. HIV—Human immunodeficiency virus; a retrovirus that destroys the immune system's helper T cells; HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

hyperthermia—An increase in body temperature to dangerous levels that sometimes causes convulsions or even death. incarcerated—Imprisoned.

interventions—An action undertaken to prevent something undesirable from happening.

intoxicating—Capable of making someone drunk or stupefied with drugs. intravenously—Occurring inside a vein.

ketosis—The overproduction of ketone bodies as a result of not eating for long periods of time; causes bad breath.

libido—Sex drive.

narcolepsy—A condition characterized by frequent, brief, and uncontrollable bouts of deep sleep, sometimes accompanied by an inability to move.

potency—The strength of a drug.

potent—Very strong or powerful.

precursors—Substances that, in nature, might be inactive, but when combined with another chemical, create a new product. psychosis—A psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia that is marked by delusions, hallucinations, incoherence, and distorted perceptions of reality.

quotas—A maximum quantity that is permitted or needed. railing—Snorting crystalline meth powder. renal—Having to do with the kidneys.

rush—A sudden and powerful onset of an emotion; a sudden feeling of elation and pleasure.

schizophrenia—A psychosis marked by delusional behavior and intellectual deterioration.

sober—Abstinence (complete restraint) from the use of drugs or alcohol. stimulant—Something that increases bodily activity or acts like a stimulus. synthetic—Made entirely from human-made chemicals; opposite of natural. toxic—Poisonous; something that can cause serious harm or death. volatile—Prone to sudden change; apt to become suddenly violent or dangerous.

xerostomia—An abnormal lack of saliva in the mouth.

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