SW Ind. drug task force still overwhelmed by meth

Associated Press Published: November 18, 2012
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Even more telling, there were six arrests related to meth labs in 1995 in Indiana, according to state police. In 2011 there were 1,420 meth lab arrests.

Meth labs have injured at least 198 people, including 82 law enforcement officers and 11 children, from 2000 to through September 2012, according to state police.

Additionally, the deaths of 22 adults and two children were attributed to methamphetamine during that same 12-year period.

Nearly half of those deaths were caused by fires or explosions. Five methamphetamine-related deaths were attributed to police shootings or pursuit crashes.

Pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in some allergy and cold medicines, is the key ingredient needed for home-cooking methamphetamine. Beginning in January, all Indiana pharmacies were required to use an instant "meth check" electronic tracking program that blocks one-time purchases of more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine containing drugs and disallows more than 7.2 grams to be bought every 30 days.

Called the National Precursor Log Exchange, the system also is used in Illinois and Kentucky, helping stop sales from across state lines.

Indiana State Police data show that meth lab seizures increased more than 22 percent since the system was instituted.

However, while information from the system has helped boost lab seizures, it has had little effect on the overall problem.

"Making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug is the only way we are ever going to stop it," Hemsley said.

Even then, he acknowledged, it won't completely stem the tide.

"It's a complicated subject. People often ask me, 'What are going to do about this meth problem?' There is no easy answer," said Dr. William Wooten, a well-known local addiction specialist.

The retired physician was tapped by Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke to head his Mayor's No Meth Task Force. Creating the meth task force was one of Winnecke's first priorities upon taking office in January.

The group is charged with finding a strategy to tackle the problem and creating a plan to implement it.

"Meth is a significant issue in this community from the standpoint of social and economic perspectives," Wooten said. "The number of meth users and related injuries and deaths is small compared to alcohol, but meth is consuming the time of law enforcement and taxpayer dollars. It's an economic problem disproportionate to the number of people using that drug."

Wooten said the task force is concentrating its short-term strategy on making pseudoephidrine a prescription drug.

"That appears to be a solution that has worked in other communities," he said.

State Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler, attempted two bills to address the problem during the last legislative session, but neither succeeded in getting a hearing.

One would have imposed a statewide prescription requirement for pseudoephidrine and the other would have allowed communities to develop local ordinances to do that.

Bacon, whose district at the time included most of Vanderburgh County, said he plans to sponsor similar legislation this year.

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com