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Tighter controls needed on key meth ingredient , says AG Cooper

Release date: 2/14/2005

Cooper calls on legislators to restrict sales of pseudoephedrine

Raleigh: North Carolina needs stricter controls on the key ingredient used to manufacture illegal methamphetamine, Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.

“We’ve got to cut this dangerous drug off at the source,” said Cooper. “Criminals can’t make meth if they can’t get the key ingredient.”

Cooper wants to see legislators tackle the problem by controlling the sale of products that contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, commonly found in over-the-counter cold medicines and needed to make methamphetamine. Similar measures are under consideration in 20 other states, including many Western and Midwestern states where meth lab busts total in the thousands annually. Nineteen other states already regulate sales of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in some way, including Oklahoma which last year passed a law requiring the medication be placed behind pharmacy counters.

Oklahoma’s law may be paying off. Meth lab busts have dropped 81 percent under the new law, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. Cooper plans to meet with Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and other attorneys general in Arizona later this month to discuss ways to fight meth.

“Law enforcement in other states tells us that stricter controls on key ingredients seem to be working. If we act now to put controls in place here in North Carolina, we can stay ahead of the curve in fighting this drug and avoid the dramatic increase in meth manufacturing seen in the western United States.”

North Carolina’s meth problem developed over the past few years, and Cooper has been working to battle the spread of secret drug labs that produce the dangerous drug. In 1999, the first year that meth labs were reported in North Carolina, SBI agents discovered 9 labs. That number has skyrocketed, with agents shutting down 322 labs in 2004 and more than 40 so far this year.

Under a law championed by Cooper that took effect December 1, 2004, criminals who make meth now face active prison time. Meth makers can face additional time if a child is endangered by their meth lab or a law enforcement officer or other first responder is injured in a lab bust. In addition, the law added meth to the list of drugs that can trigger a charge of second-degree murder when the drug causes an overdose death.

Along with tougher laws, Cooper worked with lawmakers last year to add 14 more SBI agents to shut down meth labs across the state. He plans to ask legislators for more SBI agents to continue the fight against meth. Cooper also sought and won federal funding for a meth watch program to train retail merchants to spot suspicious purchases of ingredients that are needed to make meth.

“Making sure that criminals who make this dangerous drug serve prison time was a critical first step,” said Cooper. “We want to continue working with legislators and law enforcement to stop meth manufacturers from making the drug in the first place.”