- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

RICHMOND — Methamphetamine laboratories have been pushed offshore by state laws that make the drug’s key ingredient — over-the-counter cold remedies — tough to get, state attorneys general from across the South said yesterday.

But the fiendishly addictive and often deadly street drug is available because it’s being smuggled in, largely by illegal aliens entering the country from Mexico, the officials said.

States have forced cold and allergy medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine off store shelves and behind pharmacy counters and put strict limits on quantities sold. That has deeply cut the number of meth kitchens that flourished in houses, back rooms and sheds, said Robert F. McDonnell, Virginia’s attorney general and host of two days of discussions about controlling the drug.

“What that’s done is put an increase in the amount of methamphetamine that’s coming from Mexico and other places — through California and through other states,” Mr. McDonnell said.

Two-thirds to 80 percent of the meth supply is now imported, he said.

Scott Burns, the White House’s deputy drug czar, said the number of U.S. meth labs declined from about 17,500 in 2004 to about 8,000 in 2005. Figures from 2006 are not available, he said.

“The problem has shifted to Mexico,” Mr. Burns said, adding that President Bush has taken the issue up “on the highest levels, not only with the government of Mexico but with four or five countries that produce ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.”

As a result, Mr. Burns said, Mexico has reduced its imports of the chemicals from about 150 metric tons a year to about 50 metric tons.

But the crisis persists, Mr. McDonnell and attorneys general from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Maryland said at a press conference.

In Mississippi, the restrictions on the sale of “precursor drugs” that contain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine resulted in a 65 percent reduction in the number of meth lab busts, said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

“The first step was to try to prevent the production, but now they’ve moved to trafficking and bringing it into our state, and now we have to really work together with the federal government and one another, particularly in the South, in information sharing,” Mr. Hood said.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said while some homegrown meth kitchens remain in his state, most meth comes from Mexico via Atlanta, “so there is a very regional component to this.”

“The volume is increasing, it appears to us, and meth in its crystal form is still very readily available, maybe even more available in our state today than through the homegrown labs,” Mr. McCollum said.

During work sessions at the meeting sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General, police and prosecutors described, sometimes in explicit detail, meth’s grisly toll not only on its users but on children who live around the toxic chemicals used to cook the drugs.

Mr. McDonnell said some meth users are instantly addicted, and it can trigger fatal strokes and heart attacks, even in first-time users.

Users sometimes stay awake for days, producing psychotic behavior, including extreme self-mutilation, said Joseph T. Ricketson, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Ricketson told of encountering a man who disembowled himself after “tweaking” on the drug for four or five days.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s assistant director, William Benson, said the profound and rapid physical and mental decline that meth produces in users helps educators and police frighten young people from the drug. Comparative photos show once-attractive people who have quickly lost teeth, suffered conspicuous oral and facial sores, taken on a jaundiced pallor and are reduced to a nearly skeletal appearance from meth addiction.

“This is such a disgusting drug. You can see the results,” Mr. Benson said. “If you look at meth users, they make great before-and-after photographs. I tell them, ‘Look at these people. Is that what you want to look like?’ ”

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