Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Unnecessary Epidemic - Methamphetamine Part Two

This is part two of the series which ran in the Oregonian newspaper last year. I have decided to publish the faces of Meth users to illustrate that these public policy discussions have human outcomes. These souls may be our fathers, mothers, daughters and/or sons.

If you would like to write your Congressman or Congresswoman, Senator, or the President regarding these issues please feel free. I will post easy links to facilitate correspondence.

Lobbyists and Loopholes

Monday, October 04, 2004

In his office on Washington, D.C.'s bustling Connecticut Avenue, five blocks north of the White House, drug lobbyist Allan Rexinger was scanning the Congressional Record one September day in 1986 when two words stopped him short.

"Ephedrine." "Pseudoephedrine."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration wanted to require companies to keep sales and import records for these and 12 other chemicals used in making illegal drugs. Executives would have to give the DEA the documents when asked.

From his seven years protecting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, Rexinger knew that ephedrine was important to sellers of nonprescription asthma and diet pills. Even more important, pseudoephedrine was the leading ingredient in the nation's $3 billion cold medication market. Every major drug firm had a brand.

The controls, Rexinger suspected, were only the beginning, the first step toward making cold medicine a prescription drug.

The DEA had to be stopped.

Rexinger's group prepared a counterattack. It was the first of many that would stall three major efforts over the next decade to regulate products sold by one of Washington's most influential industries.

The lobbyists would repeatedly invoke the needs of tens of millions of cold sufferers and asthmatics who were buying pseudoephedrine- and ephedrine-based products over the counter. Meanwhile, they would forge alliances with Capitol Hill staffers, members of Congress and White House officials who would help them thwart the DEA's plans. It was, the lobbyists believed, the only way to cope with a bureaucracy deaf to industry concerns.

Whenever federal officials tried to tighten control over the chemicals used to make methamphetamine, Rexinger and his colleagues swung into action. Again and again, DEA officials agreed to compromises that left open one or more crucial loopholes for traffickers to obtain their ingredients -- the bulk of which are made in only nine factories worldwide.

A small group of federal officials, prosecutors and local cops understood the inner workings of the methamphetamine business and the threat it posed to Oregon, California and other states in the West. But their push for tougher laws was episodic, and they were repeatedly outmaneuvered by the pharmaceutical industry, which had far better access and influence over key decision-makers.

Meth traffickers relentlessly exploited the loopholes lawmakers left open.

By 1997, when the DEA completed its incremental struggle to control all levels of the trade in meth-related chemicals, an estimated 5 million Americans had tried methamphetamine.

As Rexinger studied the DEA's first proposal to impose controls that fall day in 1986, he picked up the phone and sounded the warning.

Over the coming months, Rexinger would confront the bill's congressional sponsors and challenge the DEA. Ultimately, someone would have to persuade the White House to intervene.

Read the rest here.

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