BY Robert Weiner and Jonathan Battaglia
Methamphetamine, an illicit drug that is easily and cheaply produced, remains a deeply entrenched problem in the Southern United States. The 2009 National Drug Intelligence Center's National Drug Threat Survey showed 22.8 percent of state and local agencies in the Southeast reported meth as their greatest drug threat second only to cocaine.
Former U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey called meth "one of the worst drug menaces ever to threaten America, associated with paranoia, stroke, heart attack, and permanent brain damage, leaving a trail of crime and death." Despite its dangers, 10.4 million Americans age 12 and older have tried methamphetamine at least once, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The problem is only getting worse in South Carolina. A 2008 study by Eric L. Sevigny, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, showed that methamphetamine use in the state had increased substantially since 2000. According to the study, 1,066 South Carolinians admitted themselves into methamphetamine treatment centers in 2007, up from just 126 in 2000.
The simplest solution to the meth epidemic in South Carolina and across the country is to make pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug.
On May 12 at the National Press Club in Washington, Obama Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske said, "I am unbelievably supportive of making pseudoephedrine prescription-only."
Oregon, Mississippi and Missouri are the first states to try this approach. Kerlikowske told Congress in April that the experiment in Oregon has been "very encouraging." Buying pseudoephedrine for meth, or "smurfing," has been greatly reduced in the four years since Oregon enacted the law. Law enforcement officials made approximately half as many arrests for methamphetamine manufacture in 2009 as in 2006, the year the law took effect. It's a huge victory.
The citizens of South Carolina should support this measure as well.
It's time South Carolina's lawmakers make their state's meth problem a legislative priority. The best way to curtail meth use is to make sure the only people getting pseudoephedrine, a key component of meth and an ingredient found in most over-the-counter cold medications, are the people who really need it.
In 2005, Congress got the ball rolling by imposing legislation that mandated retailers require proof of identity for all purchasers of pseudoephedrine. The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act also imposed daily and monthly sales limits on pseudoephedrine.
The result was a confusing process for retailers and the arrests of law-abiding people with no other motive but getting rid of their cold. Shortly after the law took effect, an Illinois man was arrested for going over the monthly legal limit of pseudoephedrine because he had to buy enough Claritin-D for himself and his son. Arresting a man for treating his allergies is not the intent of this law.
In 2005, South Carolina launched a "Meth Watch" program designed to educate retailers on the illegal purchase of household items for the production of meth. Employees were shown training videos about meth. Store items used in meth were marked with special tags and monitored. Unfortunately, because the training was voluntary, many retail employees are still in the dark about the dangers of meth.
Oregon's law makes things a lot simpler for both law enforcement and retailers: no prescription, no pseudoephedrine. There has been little outcry from people with colds, Kerlikowske says, because people "witness the impact it has had on reducing dangerous methamphetamine labs and their production."
South Carolina, and Congress, should follow suit.
Mr. Weiner was director of public affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1995-2001. Mr. Battaglia, an assistant news editor for The Daily Gamecock and a junior at USC, is interning as a policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates in Washington.