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Oregon's methamphetamine war

Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski hopes that by restricting access to over the counter cold medicines that hold a key ingredient used to make the meth will help halt it's production.

While local police and sheriffs departments in the American Northwest have been aware for awhile, the rest of the country is now finding out how severe America’s methamphetamine problem really is.

Oregon lawmakers have taken a new tact in trying to combat this problem by restricting access to over-the-counter cold medicines that hold a key ingredient used to make the highly addictive drug.

These new methods in the fight against methamphetamine use have also been examined by the Bush administration. During a Thursday trip to Tennessee, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales outlined the government's new strategy, saying that they would focus on addiction treatment, as well as strong enforcement of anti meth laws.

'Connected Coast-to-Coast' hosts Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley spoke with Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski about his state's meth epidemic on Friday, and discussed how he hopes the new legislation will help stop meth production.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

RON REAGAN, HOST CONNECTED COAST TO COAST: Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski spearheaded the anti-meth prescription law. ... How big is methamphetamine use in Oregon, and how do you know it’s a big problem?

TED KULONGOSKI, OREGON GOVERNOR: Well first of all I feel that it’s an epidemic, and I actually believe Attorney General Gonzales was absolutely correct when he said that it was the major drug threat in this country right now. It has been viewed traditionally as a west coast problem, but it has spread across the United States, and it is a major problem throughout America.

We’ve seen it here in Oregon through the increased utilization of our child services division, the police agencies, and the cost to us, the recovery of these homes where meth is created, just a whole series of social problems that have but a strain on our public safety system.

MONICA CROWLEY, HOST CONNECTED COAST TO COAST: Well governor, you’re come up with a creative way to combat this problem, you’ve signed into law legislation that would require people to have a prescription for what was formally an over-the-counter medication.

Tell us how this works, lets say someone has a cold and they need, say, Sudafed, are they going to have to go to their doctor and get a prescription?

KULONGOSKI: The answer to that is yes, let me just tell you that about 18 months ago, I created a meth task force in this state composed of the law enforcement community, prevention specialists, correction, and they came up with a report at that time and I went to the board of pharmacy over about a year ago, and I asked them to put all of these pseudoephedrine cold remedies behind the counter where the pharmacist would actually keep a list and require an I.D.

There wasn’t a prescription required at that time, but the legislature had just met, and one of the requests that we made to them was to make pseudoephedrine listed under our system as a class three drug, that would require a prescription.   

Now one of the things I have to tell you already, there are over 40 new products without the pseudoephedrine chemical in it that are utilized for colds. So the pharmaceutical industry can actually address this issue quite easily, because they are already coming out with products that do not have pseudoephedrine in them.

REAGAN: Now governor, as well meaning as these steps are, you know that you are going to have critics out there, saying aren’t you inconveniencing the wrong people here. You’re inconveniencing the pharmaceutical companies I suppose to some extent, and just cold and allergy sufferers.  And the methamphetamine users and makers are going to break into drug stores and just steal the stuff if they can’t buy it. How do you respond to that?

KULONGOSKI: Well my answer is, if you’re asking me if this is an inconvenience to some of our citizens than yes, I’ve never denied that, but let me suggest to you is one of the ways that we can address this epidemic is asking for a shared sacrifice of all of out citizens. You know the difference between what the states do and what the federal government does is very critically important to each of the states and by that I mean when our children are impacted the most are by these home meth-manufacturing labs.

Where the children of these parents are subject to abuse and neglect, they’re crawling around, they’re living in this environment where this meth is cooked, these children’s lives are being destroyed, it’s a tremendous cost to all of us as citizens, the cost to us is about 15-20 thousand dollars to clean up one of these home grown meth labs. The fact is, they’re showing up in our corrections system, I just talked to the director of the department of corrections, and hi budget is being strained by what is referred to as meth mouth -- this stuff is battery acid, it eats you teeth out -- and these people are showing up in our corrections system, are we are having to pay the cost to have to put implants into their mouth.

So what I’m trying to suggest is in fact, the best thing for all of us is to share in the solution to this problem on the local level. The federal level, that’s what I’m waiting for, I want a much more aggressive posture by the federal government to tell both the pharmaceutical companies, and these other countries that produce these major meth labs, that we’re gonna stop you, and I haven’t heard that yet.