A reader writes:

Listen, I'm no fan of the drug war, but your recent post on the purchase of pseudoephedrine ignores the enormous success Oregon has seen in reducing domestic meth production by making pseudoephedrine prescription-only. Rather than create a large network of "smurfing" (where individuals buy small amounts across a number of pharmacies), the law has made the purchase of such medicines restricted but still available to those who have a cold. A look at the number of meth lab busts in Oregon since the law was enacted in 2005 is pretty striking (PDF).

Has it solved the problem of meth usage? No. But this policy has clearly reduced domestic meth production (not to mention it has near-universal support among Oregon pharmacists and residents). I'd say it's a point against meth, no?

Another writes:

Balko’s quotes and attributions to that AP story are HIGHLY selective and in large measure misrepresent the AP story.

But, even more egregious, the gist of the AP story is simply not supported - in many ways it is contradicted - by the very information the AP author cites.  And they all lack the background to understand today’s problem in the context of a 15-year effort against large scale meth manufacturing in the post-biker era.

Anyone who knows the story of the meth/pseudoephedrine efforts over the last 15 years - and I was there on the ground floor Year One in California in 1994 - understands that the “smurfing” of pseudoephedrine tablets that Balko complains of represent a huge law enforcement success against meth manufacturing when you consider it against the landscape that existed in that trade from 1995 to 2000.  

Google up “DEA Operation Mountain Express” and see what you get.  That was the pseudo trade, pre-smurfing.  Want to go back to that?  Those were the days of “super labs” manufacturing 40 pounds of meth in 48 hours, leaving behind toxic waste dumps that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up and polluted ground water for miles around.

But, like with all drug issues, you have to separate the efforts on the supply side from the efforts on the demand side.  So long as there is a demand, there will eventually be a supply to meet the demand.  So it will always been a little bit like a water balloon - push in one spot, and the water moves to another spot.  But you catch a lot of very bad people along the way - and that is a good thing no matter how you look at it because it is the suppliers that prey on the weakness of the consumers all in the name of a buck.

A reader in Portland writes:

I think it's high time these pharmaceutical companies stop making pseudoephedrine, much as foreign pharma companies stopped making ingredients for quaaludes in the '70s. Why can't our drug czar simply ask them to stop feeding the problem? Otherwise, legislators and enforcement officals will continue to chase their tail to solve a problem which could be easily solved if Pharma took responsibility.

Sudafed, etc. isn't effective anyway. Use a freaking neti pot, eat right, use steam and hot baths if you have a bad cold. Take responsibility for your own illness rather than relying on these monstrous companies to solve your problem.

The above Frontline segment covers the quaalude crackdown and efforts to replicate its success with amphetamines - only to get derailed by the pharmaceutical lobby. The full episode, "The Meth Epidemic", is here.

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