Laws must keep up with meth threat

Friday, October 8, 2004

When Nebraska lawmakers meet in January, we hope that one of the main things they do is come up with more effective ways to halt the manufacture and sale of methamphetamines.

"Meth is a terrible problem," says Red Willow County Sheriff Gene Mahon. "It has reached epidemic proportions." Sheriff Mahon knows because there is a serious problem right here in Red Will0w County, as well as others parts of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas. Most recently, sheriff's officers made a meth bust in Danbury. This is the latest in a series of crackdowns, going back over the past several years.

Up to now, the principal method of fighting meth has been surveillance and enforcement, but -- going forward -- Sheriff Mahon believes more must be done.

One idea is a law curbing the sale of ephedrine, which is a key ingredient for making methamphetamine. Sheriff Mahon would like Nebraska to draft a measure similar to an Oklahoma law. That bill, which is newly passed, requires pharmacies to put products with ephedrine behind the counter and create a register of customers who purchase such products.

People who buy cold medicines -- most notably Sudafed -- would first have to show identification, then sign a register. Retail outlets other than pharmacies would have to have a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration and follow the same rules if they wished to sell products with ephedrine.

The customers who make the ephedrine purchases would have their transaction recorded in a database and tracked so meth makers can't just hop from one pharmacy to the next to make purchases.

Pharmacies are already taking action in Nebraska to keep a close watch on the sale of Sudafed and other cold medications which contain ephedrine. The problem, according to Sheriff Mahon, is that meth makers spread their purchases, buying one or two bottles of cold pills at a number of different stores.

By requiring purchasers to register, the frequent buyers could be tracked and pursued.

Yes, the requirement would be an inconvenience for legitimate purchasers of Sudafed and other cold products with ephedrine. But, when you think about it, the sheriff said, "How many times does the average person buy cold medicines in a year's time: once or twice?" The inconvenience -- of requiring everyone to sign up when buying ephedrine -- would be worth if it would help this area and this nation rid themselves of the scourge of the meth epidemic.

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