Missouri’s meth problem has an easy fix

Nathan Zoschke

There are many loveable things about the Show-Me State, from the Ozarks’ beautiful natural topography to the numerous urban amenities of Kansas City and St. Louis. Income taxes are low, and most cost-of-living indicators, including gas and housing prices, are among the most affordable in the nation.

Other statistics aren’t so flattering: Missouri has led the nation in each of the past 10 years in the number of meth lab seizures, and by a substantial margin. While the quantity of meth seized in Missouri is less than more populous states like California and Texas due to differences in the scale of production, the 2,058 meth labs seized in Missouri in 2011 aren’t a pleasing distinction.

The truly horrifying effects of the powerfully addictive stimulant include tooth and gum decay, chemically-induced psychosis and extreme weight loss with frequent use.

The meth-making process, which involves cooking a bizarre concoction of Sudafed, brake fluid, battery acid and household chemicals, is highly explosive. Of the more than 16,189 labs seized in Missouri between 2000 and 2007, 330 involved explosions.

Each pound of meth produces five to six pounds of toxic waste, posing massive public health and environmental risks, according to The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

Not only are meth labs a public safety hazard, they’re a tremendous financial burden on taxpayers. Lab site cleanups cost an average of $5,000, The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics found, and cleanups can easily exceed $100,000, depending on the lab’s size.

Burns from explosions cost millions in uncompensated emergency room care.

A day in the burn unit averages $6,000, and patients often rack up bills exceeding $100,000. Only 10 percent of meth patients have insurance, and nearly one-third of all burn unit patients in Missouri sustained injuries as a result of cooking meth, the Associated Press reported.

The fix to Missouri’s meth epidemic is simple: make pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth, a prescription drug.

In Oregon, a state law requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine-containing products was passed in 2005. Lab seizures then dropped from 467 in 2004 to 11 last year.

Although many municipalities in Missouri now require a prescription for pseudoephedrine-containing products, a bill failed to reach a vote in the Missouri senate last spring amid pressure from pharmaceutical lobbyists, who claimed it was an overextension of government in the medicine cabinets of law-abiding citizens.

Funny, considering drug companies profit immensely from the diversion of Sudafed and other over-the-counter cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine. It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of all pseudoephedrine-containing products are diverted to meth.

Some contend Missouri’s electronic monitoring system of pseudoephedrine purchases is doing enough to solve the state’s meth problem.

They must be tweaking their numbers, because statistics tell a different story. The number of meth lab seizures in Missouri has increased each year since electronic monitoring began in 2008.

Given the state’s financial crunch, any measures that could save taxpayer money should be considered.

Missouri should be spending less on meth lab cleanups, not education.

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