Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Unnecessary Epidemic - Methamphetamine Part 3

This is part three 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.

Write your Representative here.

Write the President and U.S. Senators from here.

By rubber-stamping rather than stamping out dubious chemical distributors, issuing flurries of warning letters without penalties, DEA mounts a mere . .

Token deterrent

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Thomas Narog stood outside his rented storage unit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., one day in July 1999 while a federal inspector checked the lock.

The 66-year-old semi-retired mortgage broker wanted to go into a new business, but he needed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's approval. He wanted to sell pseudoephedrine pills from the storage unit.

While Narog had no background in pharmaceuticals, he also had no criminal record, and neither did the man he claimed as his sole customer. The inspector handed Narog some brochures that warned pseudoephedrine can be used to make methamphetamine, then told him to report any suspicious orders to the DEA.

Two weeks later, Narog had his permit, and Seaside Pharmaceutical Co. was in business.

It proceeded to supply millions of pseudoephedrine pills to meth labs, federal law enforcement officials say.

The Narog case, outlined in DEA and court records, illustrates a central reason why the nation failed to keep vital chemicals from meth traffickers in the 1990s.

The DEA did not make full use of the powers it had won from Congress to shut down illicit sales of the key meth ingredients. Instead, it created an honor system that took distributors such as Narog at their word.

Some lied.

Narog was charged with supplying the meth trade, and his trial exposed gaps in DEA procedures.

The DEA inspector who reviewed Narog's application testified that he never contacted Narog's purported customer, an investor in a Florida grocery chain.

That customer, in turn, told the court that Narog had spoken to him about selling cigarettes, not pseudoephedrine.

DEA agents began watching Narog eight months after granting his license, when his TruChoice tablets started showing up in huge quantities at California meth "superlabs." By then, DEA officials say, Narog had bought 17 million pseudoephedrine pills -- enough to treat 600,000 colds for a week or make a day's supply of meth for 3 million people.

Prosecutors said Narog's business was part of a cross-country network of warehouses and intermediaries that routed the pseudoephedrine into California via Oregon. Narog was convicted in 2002 of supplying the meth trade, but an appeals court this year ordered a new trial because of improper jury instructions.

Narog applied for DEA registration under a federal law designed to prevent meth traffickers from obtaining the chemicals they needed. Companies that wanted to sell pseudoephedrine were typically asked to name their proposed customers and suppliers.

But the drug agency's inspectors did not always require answers. And they did not consistently verify what they were told.

To keep a DEA permit, a dealer was supposed to record all purchases and sales, and report any suspicious customers.

But the drug agency rarely did random audits to see whether companies were complying, a review of DEA and court records shows.

The law, which took effect in 1997, empowered the agency to revoke a company's license if allowing sales to continue was "inconsistent with the public interest."

However, DEA records obtained by The Oregonian through the Freedom of Information Act show that 35 of 129 companies whose products were found in meth labs received three or more warning letters without losing their licenses. One registered pseudoephedrine seller on the East Coast remained in business after 47 warning letters -- most recently in May 2003, the records show.

More than 200 DEA permit-holders did business from houses, mobile homes or apartments, The Oregonian's investigation found. The newspaper found at least 11 companies listed addresses that are public storage facilities.

DEA and court records show that the agency gave pseudoephedrine permits to at least two companies convicted of federal crimes. One was convicted of interstate transport of stolen goods, the other of sales of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

The DEA allowed some pill manufacturers to keep licenses despite repeatedly selling large quantities of cold tablets to people who were later convicted of meth trafficking.

Several current and former DEA officials said the drug agency has historically placed a greater emphasis on cocaine and heroin. Some veteran agents, they said, disparagingly referred to meth and other synthetic drugs as "kiddie dope."

In a statement, the DEA called that characterization a "gross misrepresentation" of how its agents view methamphetamine.

The drug agency said it moved in 2000 to tighten scrutiny over companies that sell pseudoephedrine. The DEA said it now requires inspectors to verify customers, check criminal backgrounds and visit the business addresses listed by applicants.

The DEA said it has always accorded a "high priority" to the battle against meth traffickers and the criminals who supply their ingredients. Officials declined The Oregonian's repeated requests to interview DEA Administrator Karen Tandy. However, Terry Woodworth, the agency's deputy director of diversion control, acknowledged last year that the DEA had approved companies it should not have.

"It calls into question the effectiveness of the law, the effectiveness of the regulatory controls, the effectiveness of the regulatory implementation, as well as the effectiveness of the law enforcement," said Woodworth, who has since retired.

Read the rest here.

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