How do we solve the meth epidemic in Oklahoma? Oregon may have the answer

PORTLAND, Ore. - You don't have to live in Oklahoma long to realize meth is a major problem.

But how do you solve it?

Some state lawmakers think the answer may be found in Oregon.

It's a weekday afternoon on the streets of Portland, Ore. Police officers are on patrol looking for crime, but these days they're finding less of one kind.
Sergeant Jay Bates with the drug and vice division remembers the way it used to be.

"All we did all day everyday was process meth labs," said Bates.

In 2005, 192 meth labs were found all across Oregon, but in 2010 only 13 were busted.

So how did they do it?

Oregon became the first state in the nation to make all drugs containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only.

Oregon Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, was one of several lawmakers who came up with the solution.

"We had a meth lab epidemic that was fueled by the easy access to pseudoephedrine," said Burdick.

Pseudoephedrine is the key ingredient in the meth-making process. It's found in many popular cold and allergy medications.

In 2004, drugs containing pseudoephedrine were moved behind the counter in Oregon and the amount of the drug customers could buy was limited, similar to the system currently used in Oklahoma.

Burdick decided, for Oregon, that wasn't enough, so he and his fellow legislators went to work.

But not everyone in Portland agrees that the law has been a major success.

One drug rehabilitation center spokesperson, who didn't want to be identified, said that after the law was passed they saw only a slight reduction in the number of meth users coming into their center.

Oregon's health authority agreed it hasn't done much to the number of addicts.

Officials say meth is still being shipped into Oregon from surrounding states and even Mexico. Despite that,  everyone we spoke with is in agreement that the law's been successful in greatly reducing the number of labs.

At this meeting at the Oklahoma Capitol in October, Sen. Kim David, R-Wagoner, asked for opinions from experts on whether making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only product would reduce the number of meth labs in the Sooner State.

She believes it would.

While David admits getting a prescription for basic allergy medications may be a nuisance for Oklahomans, she feels it's worth the effort to help rid the state of meth labs and spare the high costs and safety risks the labs bring with them.

"It's more of an inconvenience for our taxes to drastically increase. For our police and firefighters to put their lives on the line. For the fires that happen. You can just go on down the list. What's a little inconvenience?" said David.

State Representative Dr. Mike Ritze, who is also a Broken Arrow physician, isn't sure the law is necessary.

"It's going to create a much more intense situation for people having to come to the doctor to get a prescription for something that could be solved with a simple over-the-counter medication," said Ritze.

Instead, he would like the state to join the National Precursor Log Exchange (N-Plex) already in use in 17 other states.

N-Plex operates in real-time, allowing law enforcement to find out who's buying large amounts of pseudoephedrine.

N-Plex would also track what accused-Oklahoma meth cooks are buying across state lines, something Oklahoma's current system doesn't do.

Back in Oregon, Burdick says her law would be better for Oklahoma.

"A prescription for pseudoephedrine will end home meth labs in your state," said Burdick.

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