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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Summit examines meth

Tri-City Herald: Local

By Melissa Hoyos Herald staff writer

In nine days, Mid-Columbia law enforcement agencies hope a new state law will make life more difficult for methamphetamine addicts accustomed to buying over-the-counter cold medicine to make the drug.

On July l, Senate Bill 6478 will go into effect, further limiting shopkeeper and wholesale vendor sales of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpronolamine.

The three substances are key ingredients in meth production. Merchants currently can sell no more than three packages of medicine containing the drugs at a time.

The new law will enable law enforcement agencies to monitor shopkeepers and vendors who purchase excessive amounts of ephedrine products. The state Board of Pharmacy will have the power to revoke a vendor's license if more than 10 percent of its total prior monthly sales are nonprescription drugs. A limit of 20 percent is set for the cold and flu season, which is November through February.

Detective Sgt. Tom Zweiger of the Washington State Patrol told residents and business owners Tuesday of the new law during the Benton-Franklin Substance Abuse Coalition's The Map of Meth Summit at the Pasco Red Lion.

It was the second community forum held to combat the growing problem associated with the meth trade in the Mid-Columbia. About 150 people, including business owners, child protection service employees and landlords, attended the event.

"We're going to win. We are going to beat them at the domestic production of this drug," Zweiger said.

"It's terrific, it's absolutely phenomenal," Zweiger said.

Prescription wholesalers also will be subject to the new law, and their monthly sales of nonprescription drugs now may not exceed 5 percent of total transactions or 20 percent during the cold and flu season.

Zweiger said he thinks the bill will slow meth use in Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Yakima, Klickitat and Columbia counties. All drug cases in the region are handled by the Kennewick Crime Lab.

During the summit, Zweiger told audience members that most meth sold in Washington is made in Mexico in "super labs" run by organized crime.

Key meth ingredients, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, also have been inadvertently supplied by Canadian pharmaceutical companies, he said.

At one point, Zweiger said the meth problem in Washington was out of control. About 20 illegitimate licensed wholesalers were using their homes to store massive amounts of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, he said.

More than a dozen speakers discussed the effects and possible solutions of the problem facing the Mid-Columbia.

Carrie Runge, Benton County Superior Court judge, gave a presentation on drug court, an alternative method that provides those arrested for drug use or manufacturing with counseling and support. She said it's helping people overcome their addictions.

Dale Rodgers, a chemical dependency counselor for Lourdes Health Network, provided tips to landlords and business managers how to spot a meth user. He said meth users, also called tweakers, can have dilated pupils and be aggressive and restless.

Kathleen King, assistant counselor for Advanced Medical Hanford, said she attended Rodgers' workshop to gain a better perspective on why some of her former clients haven't been able to kick their meth habit.

"In the last two years, I had several meth addicts who had treatment. None of them were able to return to work. They couldn't pass a (drug test)," she said. "These are people with very good jobs with Hanford."

Mary Lynn Heinen, a Tri-Cities landlord and Richland real estate agent, said she visited the summit to learn more of signs that a meth cooker may be living in one of her properties.

"It's scary to be a landlord. You may not be able to sell your property," she said.

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