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Health Dept. promises regulation of meth-related products will be reasonable.

February 25, 1998
By: Ann S. Kim
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - To lawmakers voicing fears that the state's anti-methamphetamine campaign could be going too far, state officials are promising they will be reasonable in enforcing any new powers granted by the legislature.

A few lawmakers have voiced concern that the proposed anti-methamphetamine measures could unnecessarily burden law-abiding citizens.

The current versions of the legislation would add some commonplace substances to the list of chemicals regulated by the Health Department.

Suppliers must verify the identity of those buying these substances and file a report of the transaction. Individuals in the medical professions and over-the-counter medicines are exempted from such Health Department regulation.

A couple senators had expressed concern that including substances such as sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, iodine and red phosphorus would be difficult because they are found in household products.

"How do we draft a bill that addresses drain cleaners?" asked Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, during Senate debate of the measure. Drain cleaners can contain muriatic acid, a diluted form of hydrochloric acid that would be regulated by the bill.

Lye, vehicle starter fluid, batteries and nail polish remover are just some of the other household products that contain substances used to make methamphetamine. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are used in cold medicines, are actually converted into methamphetamine, explained Dan Crider, administrator for the health department's Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Current law already regulates bulk and raw forms of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

Although over-the-counter medicines do not fall under Health Department regulation, some retailers have taken measures to curb the use of their products for meth manufacture. Wal-Mart announced in an April press release that it had programmed its cash registers to limit a customer's purchase of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products.

Other retailers may call law enforcement when they witness unusually large purchases of products used by meth producers. A farm supply store, for example, may be alerted to the presence of a meth producer by a large purchase of red phosphorus. Farmers probably only need 25-50 grams of red phosphorus a year to treat animal hoof conditions, said Crider.

"We're getting cooperation from a number of retailers," said Lt. Richard Coffey of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "It's quite easy to detect if people are coming in to buy iodine for a legitimate need."

Coffey cited instances where people tried to buy a shopping cart's worth of match boxes or batteries to strip them of needed substances. Red phosphorus can be scraped off match heads and lithium strips removed from batteries.

"They've been quite resourceful," Coffey said. "If one thing becomes difficult to obtain, they substitute something else."

If the methamphetamine bills are signed into law, the Health Department will not attempt to regulate all the products containing chemicals listed in the bill, Crider said. Department officials, law enforcement and legislators are working together to come up with reasonable regulations.

"We want to make the threshold amounts pertinent to what's being used in meth labs," Crider said. Trying to regulate all products with substances used in meth production "would be like trying to chase after our own tail -- or a ghost," Crider said.

Mike Lybyer, D-Huggins, one senator who expressed concern that the bill would unduly affect everyday products would like the legislature to consider more regulation of ephedrine and psuedoephedrine products.

"To have an effective bill, we're going to have to regulate some of those main ingredients. I don't know to what extent," said Lybyer, who holds a degree in biochemistry.

Senate Bill sponsor Harry Wiggins, D-Kansas City, is amenable to changes in the legislation. Wiggins said he is confident that the bill will reach Gov. Mel Carnahan's desk. Carnahan has highlighted methamphetamine as a key issue for this legislative session.

"I want the bill to be perfect," Wiggins said. "Everybody's just so anxious to vote on it."

Similarly, the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, said that he would be willing to entertain reasonable changes.