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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Meth makers targeted by Warner order; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

It’ll be much harder to buy certain cold medicines in Virginia next month.

State officials are hoping that will make it much harder to manufacture methamphetamine.

Gov. Mark R. Warner signed an executive order Thursday that will put key ingredients in the manufacture of methamphetamine behind a pharmacy counter.

Republicans in the House of Delegates separately promised to introduce legislation in the 2006 General Assembly that would make the measures permanent.

“Methamphetamine [is] a growing health and safety problem nationwide,” Warner said at a press conference in Richmond.
Police have uncovered 46 clandestine labs so far this year. A total of 75 were uncovered in all of 2004, up from just one as recently as 2000.

“This substance is not only dangerous to use, but dangerous to manufacture,” the governor said. “About 20 percent of meth labs are discovered only when they literally catch fire and explode.”

Under Warner’s order, state agencies will come up with rules that look much like laws on the books in Oklahoma and Tennessee. Both those states passed laws after police were busting more than 1,000 meth labs per year.

In Oklahoma, the results were stunning, according to Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.
Before the law went into effect in April 2004, police took down about 120 meth labs.

“We were actually on pace for a new state record. Now we’re in the single digits,” he said. “The very first month [the number of lab seizures] dropped 40 percent.”

Meth “cooks” simply balked at walking into a store and showing a photo ID, Woodward said.

“They’re so paranoid, they don’t want to leave a paper trail,” he said.

The law does have limits, though.

“We haven’t seen a tremendous drop in meth use,” he said. “But we can deal with that” like other drug use issues, such as cocaine and heroin.

The details are still being worked out, but under Warner’s order, stores will have to put products containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter or otherwise take them off store shelves for non-assisted purchase.

They’ll also have to require buyers to show a valid form of photo ID to purchase the drugs and keep a log of who purchases the drugs and how much is purchased.

Different states have taken different approaches, but Oklahoma’s law worked by putting only powders and pills behind the counter.

Liquid-filled gels and other non-crushable forms are too hard for meth cooks to use.

Virginia officials have until Oct. 1 to come up with and implement rules, including limits on how much any one person can purchase.

The rules will remain in effect until July 1, but by that time, the General Assembly may have new laws on the books that look very similar.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call before Warner’s remarks, Republican leaders in the House of Delegates pledged to have legislation ready to go for the January session that will look very much like Warner’s proposal.

House of Delegates Speaker William Howell; Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester; Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City; and others said the GOP was already working on new laws “not incompatible” with Warner’s order.

Kilgore, twin brother of GOP gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore, introduced a bill last year that would have taken similar steps, but withdrew it over concerns about rural areas of the state.

“I became concerned on what effect it would have on mom and pop stores out in the rural areas,” he said. Many places on the Kentucky and Tennessee borders don’t have ready access to a 24-hour pharmacy.

“It’s not my intent to keep people from purchasing pseudoephedrine for lawful purposes,” Terry Kilgore said. But the problem is such now that legislators have to act to strike a balance, while still getting precursors “behind the counter, not readily accessible.”