(Phoenix, AZ) Law enforcement officials from across Arizona gathered today to discuss better ways to combat what most see as the state's No. 1 crime problem: the production and use of methamphetamine. The meeting included more than 50 county attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs.
"We have a very strong consensus that more needs to be done to stop meth cooking in Arizona," said Attorney General Terry Goddard, who convened the meeting.
"Specifically, law enforcement agrees we should make pseudoephedrine tablets - the key chemical in meth production - harder to get by putting them behind pharmacy counters and making customers sign for them. We know the huge difference that change in the law can make. In Oklahoma, which imposed that requirement last April, meth lab seizures have declined no less than 80 percent."
Brian Surber, deputy general counsel of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, spoke at the meeting about the meth problem in his state and the new law's significant impact in reducing meth labs. His agency has estimated that the costs to society of a single neighborhood meth lab – including prosecution, child protection and cleanup – usually exceed $300,000.
Surber called controlling pseudoephedrine the key to stopping meth production. “You can’t make the drug without it,” he said.
The four-hour meeting opened with a presentation by Goddard on last month's Meth Summit in Arizona, which included senior officials from 23 states. That group, too, agreed that making pseudoephedrine tablets harder to obtain was the most effective step a state can take to fight meth.
Legislation to make that change in Arizona, House Bill 2175, was introduced by Rep. Tom O'Halleran, R-Sedona. It cleared one committee on a unanimous vote last week and awaits a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee.
The bill affects only over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine in tablet form. It would also reduce the amount a person could purchase in one month from 24 grams to 9 grams. Drugs containing pseudoephedrine in gelcaps or liquid form would remain on the shelves, since they are generally not used in meth production.
Since other western states are considering legislation similar to Oklahoma’s, Goddard said the stakes are high for Arizona’s bill. “We face a very real danger of having all our neighbors pass meth legislation, leaving Arizona as the state where meth producers will choose to relocate,” Goddard said.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk called the bill a good start and encouraged the group to consider other legislative changes. These would include more strict incarceration to prevent meth users from committing additional felonies and expanded drug treatment programs.
The law enforcement officials also heard from Capt. David Neri of the Pima County Narcotics Alliance. He talked about the close association of meth use with many other crimes. In Tucson last year, 66 percent of all burglaries, 56 percent of all frauds and 95 percent of mail thefts were meth-related. Meth use has also been closely tied to domestic abuse and other violent crimes, auto theft, child neglect and identity theft.
“Meth use is pervasive throughout Tucson,” Neri said. “No part of town is safe.”
Additionally, the group was urged to support grass-roots efforts to educate both adults and children of meth's dangers. The officials were asked to build coalitions with other law enforcement agencies and community organizations, including schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, service clubs, pediatricians and behavioral health professionals.