Big pharma's role in meth production

William Holt
William Holt
Yahoo! News
Meth
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This bag of discarded waste that was used to produce methamphetamine was found by the Lexington County Multi-Agency Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) when they conducted a surprise operation, February 4, 2013, at multiple locations where they received information that clandestine methamphetamine laboratories were being operated in Columbia, South Carolina. (Tim Dominick/The State/Getty Images)

The U.S. has seen a proliferation of meth labs since the early 2000s, and pharmaceutical companies are partly to blame, Mother Jones reports.

According to the magazine, the number of meth sites busted by police has increased 63 percent nationwide since 2007. In Kentucky alone, the number of sites discovered has more than tripled in the same time frame.

The steep rise in production is mostly a result of the “shake-and-bake” or “one-pot” method of cooking meth that gained popularity in the mid-2000s. This simplification of the way that meth is synthesized from pseudoephedrine — a decongestant in popular cold and allergy medicines like Sudafed — meant that meth cookers had all the ingredients they needed with just a handful of cheap, over-the-counter ingredients. Complicated chemistry sets gave way to basic kitchenware, while production shifted to poor, rural America.

While lawmakers in 25 states have attempted to make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug, the efforts have proved successful in just two: Oregon and Mississippi. The reason why so few of these bills have become laws? Big pharma, the magazine said.

Across the country, drug manufacturers and retailers have mounted a powerful lobbying effort to maintain easy access to the decongestant. According to Mother Jones, big pharma makes an estimated $605 million on pseudoephedrine-based products a year.

“It frustrates me to see how an industry and corporate dollars affect commonsense legislation,” Kentucky state attorney Jackie Steele told Mother Jones.

In 2004, the drug industry fought a long and costly battle against a bill to put pseudoephedrine behind the counter in Oregon, claiming the proposed legislation would do little to curb the proliferation of meth labs in the Beaver State around that time.

According to Rob Bovett, a lawyer for the drug task force in Oregon’s Lincoln County, drug companies and retailers “flooded our Capitol building with lobbyists from out of state.”

The bill became a law in 2006, and the number of meth lab busts in Oregon has dropped 96 percent since then. Meanwhile, drug companies have doubled their lobbying efforts in states such as Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Indiana — the top four states for meth lab busts in the country.

Since 2009, 23 states have attempted to pass bills to make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug and only one — Mississippi —has succeeded. According to the Magnolia State’s narcotics bureau, the number of drug-endangered children dropped 81 percent within a year of the bill’s passage.