I’m Just Disappointed That the AP Didn’t Play Up the “Dickensian Aspect” a Bit More
Watch out. According to the latest report from the Associated Press (AP), despite recent attempts by states to limit the availability of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in both meth production and cold medicine, meth production is up. The AP reached this conclusion after its review of federal data showing that “meth incidents” are on the rise.
Meth incidents, I should note, are a count of the number of times that meth labs, dumpsites, or even meth production equipment is seized. The statistic is not, as I once naïvely thought, a count of meth lab explosions, or even labs themselves. The AP’s analysis does not delve into which types of “incidents” are on the rise, just that the total is up. Additionally, an uptick in meth lab incidents could just be an effect of law enforcement cracking down on meth production more effectively. So, already, we should approach the AP analysis with skepticism.
A few years ago, a number of states, including Missouri, limited the purchase of pseudoephedrine, restricted where it could be sold, and began to track those who purchased the drug. The AP says that those restrictions have created a black market trade in pseudoephedrine, the cold medicine.
An Associated Press review of federal data shows that the lure of such easy money has drawn thousands of new people into the methamphetamine underworld over the last few years.
“It’s almost like a sub-criminal culture,” said Gary Boggs, an agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration. “You’ll see them with a GPS unit set up in a van with a list of every single pharmacy or retail outlet. They’ll spend the entire week going store to store and buy to the limit.”
Well, don’t count me among the shocked. After all, it’s pretty common knowledge that regulation and restriction can create all sorts of black markets of perfectly banal commodities, such as “food, cookware, haircuts, clothing, machinery repair, house building—almost everything people use in their everyday lives.” In this case, government restriction has made something that had previously been easy to acquire that much more difficult, thus increasing the price of pseudoephedrine on the black market to far above the, say, Walgreens price.
Recent government regulation of pseudoephedrine appears to have led to a brief decline in meth production after the regulations were put in place, followed by a bounce back as meth producers found other ways to acquire drug ingredients. In the past year there were, as the AP breathlessly tells it, “10,064 meth incidents, a 62 percent rise over the previous two years.”
Yikes, I guess. This means that there are 0.00003278 meth incidents for every person in the U.S. If that’s too many decimal places for you, perhaps a better way of looking at it would be to say that there is one meth lab incident for every 30,505 people. Per year. And that can be as minor as the seizure of “chemicals and glassware.” I personally am more concerned with car fatalities (which are, by definition, fatal and occur three times more frequently than meth lab incidents).
Say you, or perhaps Gov. Jay Nixon, are still concerned by this uptick in meth statistics. Let’s set aside that we don’t know what type of “incident” is on the rise; whether this is attributable to an increase in use or to better law enforcement; whether the previous low points in the statistics were attributable to declining drug production, or just a shift from one type of drug production to another; and the extraordinarily probable explanation that drug producers will figure out how to adapt (as they have already done) to additional government regulation of pseudoephedrine.
Let’s say that the governor, or even AP reporters, suggest instead that pseudoephedrine be put behind a prescription wall. Only those who have a prescription from a doctor would be allowed to purchase cold medicine. Would that solve the problem? And would that step be worth it?
Okay, yes, those were rhetorical questions. For the first question: Of course not. If meth producers are paying individuals to buy up pseudoephedrine until they hit government-imposed purchased limits, it certainly seems likely that those producers would pay individuals to take the additional step of getting prescriptions to buy up pseudoephedrine. I suppose such a policy would help at least one group of people: Those who could get a perscription and then sell pseudoephedrine to meth producers. I bet that they could get a better price.
The second question is one that I’ve already answered on this blog, and has the same answer as the first: Of course not! There are so few “meth incidents” that to reduce them even by half hardly seems worth the cost to everyone else of either having to go to the doctor’s office when they have a cold, or forgoing treatment.
Again, I’d like to remind legislators, governors, and reporters that health care costs are a huge issue that seems insurmountable at the moment. Regulations like these are bound to increase those costs: Either individuals will have to pay for a doctor’s time in order to obtain a prescription for cold relief, or, if that person has a low co-pay, this regulation will raise health insurance providers’ costs, which will most certainly result in health insurance premium costs rising.
I hope that politicians and reporters will find some other, less intrusive issue to sensationalize for personal gain.
(H/T for post title suggestion to John Payne.)