Meth Labs, Congress: Thanks for Nothing

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I
swear, there will never be an end to topics for this column, so
long as governments at all levels continue to behave in the ways
in which they do.

“War”
is a fact of life in governments and their attendant bureaucracies.
They declare “war” on everything – terrorism, drugs, crime, smoking,
trans fats, you name it. (And it’s not limited to government. The
major music labels have been declaring
war against their own customers
for some time now.)

Well,
today, a new war has been declared. It began with a handful
of states
, but it now appears that the Feds want to get into
the act. Congress is preparing to declare war against — (insert ominous music here) — over-the-counter cold medicines.

A Dec. 10th Wired
article outlines a hidden passage in the hotly-debated Patriot Act
extension bill, the compromise version of which having just got
out of the Senate
committee
. That passage would severely limit the distribution
of any over-the-counter cold medication containing pseudoephedrine,
including Claritin-D and the ever-popular Sudafed.

Why attack a common, effective sinus remedy that has kept me functional during cold/flu season for over 30 years? Because
apparently, the active ingredient is also a necessary ingredient
in the making of methamphetamine.
So, in typical Congressional thinking, the idea is, if you limit
the distribution of this key ingredient, it follows that you limit
the proliferation of meth labs. Wrong and wrong.

Making Sudafed difficult to obtain will have the same
result as making every other “illegal” drug difficult to obtain
(read: not). Instead of buying large quantities of Sudafed
at Walgreen’s, meth lab chemists will now import the raw chemical
in cans, boxes, or drums, from Latin America or Asia. So while total
numbers of meth labs may temporarily decrease in the short run,
thus allowing lawmakers to declare victory, it’s really only the
“mom and pop” shops that will close down. The remaining, more “professional”
labs, run by larger criminal organizations able to implement economies
of scale, will be able to place their product in greater quantity
at lower cost than ever before. Thus overall meth supply will continue
to keep pace with demand. These new laws change nothing at the street
level, i.e., fewer labs, more meth.

Meanwhile, workers with miserable colds, balking at
having to sign a logbook for their favorite sinus remedy at an inflated
price (or even be forced to get a doctor’s prescription), unfazed
by pseudoephedrine “replacement” products that don’t
work as well
, will opt instead to call in sick — thus there
may be a long-term effect on GDP during cold/flu/allergy seasons.

An admission: Back in the 80’s, I was a “drug smuggler”
of sorts. I lived in Seattle, and several times a year I enjoyed
taking extended-weekend trips to Vancouver or Victoria, BC. I got
to know the proprietors of a B&B in the area. They loved Sudafed,
but hated having to get a doc’s ‘script for it, as has always been
the rule in Canada. On the other hand, aspirin with codeine, a product
unavailable except by prescription in the US, was over-the-counter
in Canada. Hence an informal non-cash trade arrangement was made,
in the pure spirit of better health-care choices for both parties.
This is an example of the absurdity of all State attempts at control
of drugs of any kind, and the creativity of individuals to work
around them. Expect sinus cold sufferers to begin making similar
arrangements in Mexico shortly, or simply stocking up on large quantities
of the medication before the new laws take effect.

So, thanks for nothing, all you meth-lab proprietors.
Not only do you distribute addictive poison, you have been lazy
in so doing
by obtaining your key ingredients at drug stores, thus raising red
flags with those who pretend to “govern” us. You deserve to go out
of business, regardless of its legality.

Governments at the state and federal levels, thanks
for nothing to you, as well, for once again, you’ve created
a “solution” that won’t work to a “problem” you’ve blown out of
proportion to its actual impact on our lives. Drug use may be the
scourge of some communities, admittedly, but libertarians maintain
(insist, really) that it should be treated as a public health problem,
as opposed to a criminal problem.

Ha-choo. Sniffle. Snort.

December
13, 2005

Thomas
Andrew Olson [send him
mail]
is a New York-based systems engineer, writer and
speaker, whose topics range from technology and the future to politics
and policy.

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