New meth law to take effect will address ‘smurfing’
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RAEIGH — Remember when Smurf referred only to little blue cartoon characters, and when folks said they were cooking up something in the kitchen, it meant that lunch was almost ready? Too often today, these expressions refer to the growing problem of methamphetamine production, an issue that lawmakers dealt with last session and are still working on via a House committee that met this past week.
Meth lab seizures, which increased almost twenty-fold between 2000 and 2004, dropped significantly between 2005 and 2006 after North Carolina enacted laws to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine a person could buy and began requiring a photo identification for such purchases. But after decreasing again in 2007, the number of meth lab responses began to climb as drug producers began to find ways around the law via fake ideas and multiple pharmacy visits. This year, State Bureau of Investigation officials say they are seeing roughly one lab a day, which will bring the state back to 2004 levels by year’s end.
Lawmakers this week heard from John Emerson, director of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program in North Carolina, who explained one problem which they hope the new law they passed this spring will address.
“We call it ‘smurfing.’ They go to multiple pharmacies buying pseudoephedrine, and there’s no way to keep track as they go from pharmacy to pharmacy,” he told WRAL.
Although several legislators had pushed a bill that would have made pseudoephedrine a prescription drug as it was before 1976, the amended legislation will continue to allow medicines containing the substance to be purchased over the counter, but will require that retailers not only see a photo ID but enter the name of a potential buyer into an electronic database. The program, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2012, will monitor what’s been purchased at different stores, including those in other states that use the same system, and will reject the transaction if the person has already reached his legal limit.
Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) was disappointed that fellow lawmakers didn’t vote to deem pseudoephedrine a Schedule III substance, making it available by prescription only as is the case now in Oregon and Mississippi. However, he supported House Bill 12, which included the new electronic monitoring and reactivated the Legislative Commission on Methamphetamine Abuse, charging the group to study the new law’s effects on the number of meth labs discovered across the state and the potential cost of making drugs containing pseudoepherine prescription only and to report back to the 2013 General Assembly.
Horn had told the Legislature that it is estimated that some 70 percent of pseudoephedrine purchased in the state is used for meth production. He also expressed concerns about the dangers of the labs and the resulting debris often tossed along the roadside, especially now that many producers use the so-called “one-pot” or “shake and bake” method, putting all the chemicals in a two-liter soda bottle.
The meth problem garnered additional attention earlier this year when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced it would no longer foot the bill for cleaning up hazardous waste at meth labs. The SBI, which inherited the task, ran out of funding relatively quickly and passed the tab onto local governments, few of which could afford it.
Last month, a new plan was announced by the SBI to help deal with meth lab cleanup. The Clandestine Laboratory Hazardous Waste Storage Container Program, a joint effort by the SBI, the DEA and the Governor’s Crime Commission, is set to be fully operational by Jan. 1, 2012.
Under the new partnership, trained local officers will neutralize and package lab waste; then SBI agents will take it to container sites for pickup and destruction by a hazardous waste contractor. A grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission will foot the bill for training, equipment and start-up costs.
“We’re glad to see the effort to stop methamphetamines is still at the forefront, both with lawmakers and with law enforcement agencies,” said Dr. Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Already too many North Carolinians have fallen prey to this substance and too many children have been exposed to these harmful chemicals, living in meth labs.”
“We urge legislators to be ready to tighten the law even more by making pseudoephedrine a schedule III drug if the electronic monitoring doesn’t significantly curtail the problem,” he added. “And we commend the SBI and local agencies for working together to come up with cleanup options to help protect our communities from these dangerous toxins.”