Special Report: War on Meth - Part 1

Updated: Friday, February 15 2013, 07:35 AM EST
Special Report: War on Meth - Part 1 story image
(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - All wars come with a hefty price tag, and whether we realize it or not, it's us the taxpayers footing the bill.

The war on meth is no different.

Though the true cost is hard to tally, meth costs Michigan taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year.

However, a growing number of people on the front lines believe there's a magic bullet for this national epidemic.

Last year, Michigan State Police recorded 141 meth dump sites and 325 labs.

Even if no innocent victims are poisoned, burned, or blown up by these sites, each one requires a costly, and often dangerous, clean-up.

Even afterwards, the area must be condemned, pending remediation by the property owner, which often is never done, leaving abandoned meth labs as far as the eye can see.

We may never stop meth use, but law enforcement says we can greatly reduce the collateral damage if we stop the labs.

Many believe the solution is clear, but few are willing to accept it.

A Rand Health study shows that meth costs the U.S. as much as $48 billion annually--and that was in 2005.

The epidemic has only grown since then.

"Six years ago, Senator Patty Berkholtz and I had the first legislation in Michigan concerning methamphetamine," said State Senator Rick Jones.

That legislation put pseudoephedrine products behind the counter and limited daily purchases.

Following the passage of the law, meth incidents dipped slightly to 202 in 2007, but exploded to 760 by 2010.

Now, State Senator John Proos feels the National Precursor Log Exchange is the answer, and on January 1, 2012, Michigan became the 18th state to implement NPLEx.

The log exchange mandates that anyone purchasing a pseudoephedrine product show identification, and records all information in a national database.

"A one day limit is 3.6 grams that you can purchase, but there's also a 30 day limit of 9 grams," pharmacist Mike Smith said.

Smith has been a pharmacist for 36 years, and says that the log exchange is a pain and a bother, because "it takes a long time to register these things."

As long as it keeps pseudoephedrine off the streets, it's hard to begrudge a few extra minutes.

But Rick Hoyer, the Allegan Police Chief, says the labs are just as prevalent as ever.

Chief Hoyer says that while NPLEx is keeping store hopping down, it's causing what's known as the 'smurf' population to balloon.

"They'll approach college students, they'll pay unsuspecting individuals to go in and make these purchases for them, they'll approach the homeless, the poor," Chief Hoyer explained.

Missouri and Kentucky enacted NPLEx in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Both showed a quick drop in the number of meth labs, only to see it spike again.

Kentucky, for example, dropped from 600 labs to 300 in 2007, but the number skyrocketed to 919 by 2010.

Drug teams around the state say that the NPLEx database is a crucial tool for making arrests, but not for stopping meth labs.

Meth lab busts actually went up 22 percent last year, after the inception of NPLEx.

In fact, only two states have shown the ability to keep meth manufacturing suppressed--Mississippi and Oregon, neither of which rely on NPLEx.

"If it's not being shown to stop the labs, what good is it?" asked Senator Proos. "I would want to understand exactly what's happening in Oregon."

It's a phenomenon Chief Hoyer says he's been studying for years.

"There's a cure, and it's making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug," he explained.

There's a reason only two states have done it, though.

"There's a lot of push back," Sen. Jones said. "It would be very hard to pass that legislation."

Sen. Proos told Newschannel 3 that "all the local drug companies, including Perrigo and Pfizer," support the NPLEx system being in place nationwide.

Perrigo denied an interview with Newschannel 3, and Pfizer didn't return our calls.
Special Report: War on Meth - Part 1
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