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Late last year, Kentucky State Police trooper John Hawkins told WFPL the increase in meth lab busts was so sharp that police were on track to find more than one thousand before the end of the year.

Well…that happened.

Kentucky State Police (KSP) released the 2010 methamphetamine lab statistics today and the number indicates an all-time high in the Commonwealth. KSP reports that there were 1,080 meth labs found during 2010, exceeding all previous year totals.

The top five counties with the highest incidents of meth lab occurrences were Jefferson (154 labs), Laurel (113 labs), Warren (70 labs), Barren (57 labs) and Hardin (53).

There’s legislation pending in the General Assembly that would make decongestant and meth ingredient pseudoephedrine available by prescription only. The bill has the support of many law enforcement officials (but not all), and it has a number of opponents as well. It’s not clear whether the bill will pass both chambers of the General Assembly, but if it does, it’s also not clear whether Governor Steve Beshear will sign it.

by Graham Shelby

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear hasn’t decided if he’ll sign a bill that would make medicine containing the meth ingredient and decongestant pseudoephedrine available by prescription-only.

The Governor says he wants to reduce the number of meth labs in the state, but is concerned about the effect of the measure on law-abiding citizens. In addition, he says it’s hard to know if any new law enforcement system is going to be effective before it’s implemented.

“When we first put our system that we have now in, for about the first two years, the lab numbers really dropped, and then of course they came back up as people figured out somehow how to get around the system. And I’m concerned that I don’t know how effective it will be,” he says.

Beshear says he intends to listen to the debate in Frankfort before making up his mind. That debate will continue next week. Proponents of the bill say the measure would drastically limit meth-makers access to a key component of the illegal drug methamphetamine.

Legislation that would make over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine prescription-only is making its way through the General Assembly. Here’s the legislative update and the reaction from one law enforcement official.

The issue has divided lawmakers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and law enforcement officials, and it will be interesting to see if Kentucky follows the example set by Oregon and Mississippi.

The bill that would make over the counter cold medicine that could be used to make meth prescription-only is making its way through the General Assembly, and while law enforcement officials generally favor the legislation, it’s being met with stiff opposition from drug manufacturers (the ones who make the legal drugs. Meth manufactureres likely oppose the bill as well, they probably don’t hire lobbyists).

Mississippi and Oregon have seen a prescription law lead to a drop in meth lab busts. And there’s evidence that merely tracking cold medicine purchases is not only ineffective, but makes matters worse by creating an illegal market for Sudafed, etc. (Prescription drug abuse is also a continuing problem in the U.S.)

What I don’t often hear from officials on either side of the debate is some response or echoing of the most common complaint I hear from the public…prescriptions require visits to the doctor. That’s inconvenient, but for many people, it’s impossible. For the uninsured and under insured, a visit to the doctor can break the bank.

The debate on how to fight meth is getting more interesting as more and more states consider prescription-only laws. The question of how to fight a scourge without punishing the innocent is raised constantly, and it’s fascinating to see how various lawmakers answer it.

Programs that track the purchase of cold medicine that may be used to make meth is not stopping the meth trade. In fact, it’s creating more criminals.

That’s what the Associated Press found in a recent investigation. The programs are designed to keep individuals from purchasing enough over the counter drugs to make meth. For years, manufacturers sidestepped these laws by recruiting smurfs (sometimes called smurfers). The AP reveals that not only does smurfing increase several years after a tracking system is put in place in a state, but the smurfs have created a sizeable illegal market for legal drugs.

The stricter alternative is to make certain cold medicines prescription-only. But scheduling drugs creates a new set of problems:

Oregon began requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine products in 2006. Mississippi became the second state to do so in July, and Missouri’s governor is asking lawmakers to follow suit in 2011.

If more states do the same, it could be devastating for makers of cold and sinus pills. The pseudoephedrine market is estimated at more than $550 million annually.

Opponents of prescription laws say they punish mostly law-abiding consumers for the crimes of a relative few.

But many law enforcement officials say it’s hard to argue with Oregon’s success. The state had 191 meth incidents in 2005, the year before the prescription-only law. By 2009, it had 12.

The Kentucky State Police released the monthly report on meth lab busts for October this week.

KSP reports that there were 111 meth labs found during the month of October, exceeding all previous monthly totals, bringing the 2010 statewide total to 919.

The last record was set in 2009, when 741 labs were discovered during the course of a year. The state is on track to exceed 1,000 meth labs this year.

The KSP attributes the increase to the availability of meth ingredients. Meth has also become increasingly easy to manufacture. But as we’ve reported on WFPL, it’s impossible to determine how much of the increase in busts should be attributed to an actual increase in manufacturing and how much should be attributed to better law enforcement practices. Most of the law enforcement officers and prosecutors we’ve talked to say it’s certainly a combination of both, but disagree on the proportion.

(h/t Ville Voice)

Iowa has become the latest state (following Kentucky, among others) to track pseudoephedrine (PSE) purchases. PSE can be used to make meth, and tracking systems are often proposed as the less onerous alternative to making PSE prescription-only.

But in Iowa, the ACLU is questioning how private the records will be.

Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, told Lews his officers don’t need subpoenas to search the system but are required to complete special training to use it. Randall Wilson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, called for a court order to authorize such searches so citizens won’t have “law officers root(ing) through their medical affairs without a specific reason to suspect them of wrongdoing.”

Law enforcement officers are likely to say the court orders will slow them down when they need to find meth cooks. However, if a court order is not required, then it seems that, in Iowa at least, you must give up a certain right to privacy to purchase a certain type of cold medicine.

Jessie Halladay of the Courier-Journal has a lengthy story on the efforts to fight meth production in Kentucky. Specifically, the story focuses on the debate over whether over-the-counter drugs that contain a key meth ingredient should be made prescription, or vigorously tracked by law-enforcement agencies.

The story touches on the difficulty some Kentuckians would have obtaining cold medicine without a doctor’s note, and it points out that prescriptions don’t prevent misuses, since prescription drug abuse is a major problem. However, the piece quotes law-enforcement officials saying the ban would significantly decrease the number of meth labs in the commonwealth.

The CVS Pharmacy chain has been fined $75 million (on top of forfeiting $2.6 million in profits) for unlawfully selling pseudoephedrine in California and Nevada in 2007 and 2008.

Pseudoephedrine (PSE) is a key ingredient in meth. The LA Times reports that CVS sold more PSE to customers than was legally allowed. The chain blames the sales on a malfunctioning statewide tracking system, but managers knew the pharmacies were vulnerable for some time, apparently.

In the last year, a debate flared up in the Metro Council over whether PSE should be banned from Louisville stores. While cities may place caps on the amount of PSE customers can purchase in a given time period, some manufacturers recruit a small group of “smurfers” to buy several doses of the drug from different stores, then use the PSE to make meth.

The LA Times article has more information on how CVS was caught, and the story ends with this bit of information:

The customers did not seem particularly secretive about their purchases — many used CVS discount cards to get credit for what they were buying, Mintz said. The most popular form of the drug was the CVS generic.

“Apparently, smurfers are good shoppers too,” she said.

In the U.S. Senate race between Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway, Paul has criticized Attorney General Conway for not stopping the spread of meth, since meth lab busts are up. Conway, however, says meth is easier to make and law enforcement officers are getting better at catching manufacturers, so an increase in meth lab arrests does not necessarily correspond to an increase in meth use. The situation is similar in other states, and Radio Iowa (via) recently reported on the increase in the so-called Shake and Bake technique for making meth.

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