Meth, Montana, Mexico: Legislating Furiously Isn’t Fast Or Effective

January 2, 2013
Darren Tyler

On Jan. 15, 2012, 3-year-old Isaiah and 17-month-old Aliyah were shot and killed by their mother; 23-year-old Aide Mendez. Investigators were suspicious immediately that methamphetamine abuse was what fueled this unspeakable act. As it turns out, Mendez had videotaped herself smoking meth just hours before.

Meth has been on the streets of America since the mid-1980s. It has a unique distinction in that it is the first drug that started in more rural Western towns and cities and moved to the urban areas. It’s shocking, but according to an article in USA Today, “most law enforcement agencies don’t keep statistics on how many homicides, burglaries and thefts are meth-related, but those responding to the National Drug Intelligence Center’s 2011 survey said the drug is the top contributor to violent crimes and thefts.”

If you’ve tried to buy Sudafed lately you’re an possibly unwitting participant in the war on drugs. Every time you sign that little clipboard, present your ID and promise you’re not going home to cook meth, you’re participating in the philosophy born in the 80s.

For this particular concept, we can thank Gene Hayslip. In 1986 Hayslip was the No. 3 guy at the Drug Enforcement Agency. With his unkempt gray hair, fedora hat, large, dark-frame glasses and white suit coats he could easily be passed as the love child of Andy Warhol and Don Johnson. He introduced an idea that in the 80‘s was groundbreaking.

The DEA would go after not just the users, dealers and manufacturers, but would also start working to stop the supply chain of the ingredients themselves for drugs created synthetically.

The DEA would begin to use this as one of their core methods of killing meth on the streets of America. The challenge is that the key ingredients for meth are Ephedrine and/or Pseudo Ephedrine. They are also the key ingredients in cold medicines like Sudafed. If you’ve used them while having a runny nose, you know how effective they can be.  One 1992 study published in the Journal of Law and Economics found the increasing availability of over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies prevented 1.6 million annual doctor visits.

The idea was that if we can simply cut off access to Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine from the meth cooks, that we could crush meth and save millions of lives.

By 1994 the amount of meth on the streets in the Western United States was on the rise. The source for this dramatic increase was discovered when a Lufthansa flight landed at DFW on the way to Mexico. DEA agents discovered 3.4 metric tons of Ephedrine manufactured in India was on board headed to drug cartels in Mexico City.

The DEA learned there were nine factories in India manufacturing the vast majority of the Ephedrine being used by the cartels and consumed by Americans. An agreement was reached with the companies that they would no longer ship to these organizations in Mexico.

Laws in America were being passed restricting the amount of these products a consumer could purchase. The purity of the meth on the streets had plummeted. This is a great thing because the less pure the drug, the less addictive it is. Addiction rates were down, recovery rates were up. Congress had finally given the DEA the power to regulate cold medicine with Ephedrine in it, and it seemed to be working.

They did not however do the same with Psuedoepedrine. For the untrained, (i.e. Congress) Pseudoephedrine and Ephedrine are interchangeable when cooking meth.  The manufacturers in America simply switched ingredients. Labs began to hum again, creating another mountain of meth abuse.

There were more laws passed. And there were more work arounds created by the meth cooks. “Smurfing” became a common practice. Simply driving from store to store, buying the amount allowed at each one and then selling them for marked up prices to meth cooks. Meth cooks were using new techniques referred to as “shake and bake.”  Simply put they were using 2-litre bottles and making it in their cars while driving around.

In 2004, Oklahoma, followed by  Oregon (by some estimations hit hardest by the meth crisis), moved meth behind the counters of stores. Several chain stores followed suit.   Studies had shown that as much as 75 percent of the Ephedrine and Pseudoephederine leaving convenience stores were being used to cook meth.

Meanwhile in Mexico, the Mexican Cartels had long since found other sources for their ingredients. In 2004 Mexico imported 220 tons of Ephedrine; twice as much as they used for cold meds in the entire country. The extra 100 tons were going straight to the cartels and following to the streets of America. As a result the meth on the streets was as pure as it had ever been.

Ultimately Mexico, recognizing the problem, banned the import of Ephedrine altogether and again the purity of the meth on the streets plummeted; but not for long.

Meanwhile in America the federal legislation passed in 2006 requiring anyone purchasing cold medicines containing Ephedrine or Pseudoephedrine to present ID and purchase only limited quantities. Moving behind the counter would surely fix the problem with the “smurfs.”

As a result, the concept of “super smurfing” was introduced. Four to five people going from town to town, store to store, buying only the amount allowed by law and filling their trunks.

And in Mexico, as is always the case, the cartels found other sources and are once again creating meth on an industrial scale and smuggling it into the United States.

Cities like Great Falls, Mont. (hard hit by the meth crisis), have seen dramatic decreases in meth lab busts. Meth use, however, has remained stable. The simple truth is Great Falls is no longer a meth producer, just a meth consumer. The source of their meth? Mexico.

In 2010, Oregon enacted a state law making it a requirement to have a prescription to obtain cold medicines with Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine products. It was widely hailed as a success story in the weeks and months that followed. It’s entirely possible that soon there would be a federal law requiring the same. The only problem? The facts show that it has had little effect on meth use in the state.

Despite legislation, the meth fueled violence continues. In January 2012 a mother was sentenced for stabbing her newborn baby. In November 2011 an Oklahoma woman drowned her baby in a washing machine. In December 2011 a woman claimed to be God and stabbed her son with a screwdriver.  All of these were meth-fueled crimes.

And if you’re in Mexico, the problem is far worse. Adults and children alike are being murdered by the thousands as part of a war between the drug cartels and the war of the government against them.

The war is about controlling vast riches available by selling narcotics in America including meth. At this point, as much as 80 percent of the meth in America is coming from Mexico. Controlling this substance has ironically, caused a dramatic spiral out of control.

In a social climate where gun control legislation is front and center, we’re seeing that legislation on Meth has caused a dramatic loss of control on automatic weapons in Mexico.  It’s certainly one of the greater ironies of legislative actions in history.

It all begs the question: what can we do? As a nation, as a church, as a follower of Jesus, what is the answer to the problem of meth?   Legislation is a tool, but history shows us that it’s not a particularly effective nor long term solution.

I truly believe that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.  I’d like to share some of what I see the Lord saying there in a second part to this blog.  I’ll be posting that in the coming days.



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