Another Meth Story

The Free Press has published a couple more stories about crystal meth addiction and the governments’ strategies to restrict supply of meth.
Last Tuesday, January 4, 2006, there was a Bruce Owen, “Mom blames crystal meth for daughter’s death”, published electronically at McIntyre’s site. On Friday, January 6, 200, there was a story that pharmacists had agreed to move products that contain ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine behind the counter, and to limit the amount sold.


The story about pharmacists also mentioned the sale of cold remedies in grocery stores, implying that those sales had also been banned. The story was not clear about the new rules, and how the rules had been made.
First, we have to identify the players and their web sites. The NDMAC sponsors the Canadian Methwatch website. What is NDMAC? Their web site doesn’t explain the acronym, but it seems to be National Drug Manufacturers Association of Canada. The members manufacture non-prescription drugs. It is a lobby group for the retail drug industry. It suggests “codes” of practice for its members. The Methwatch program is a voluntary program to “Reduce methamphetamine production without disrupting the availability of legal products”. The Retail Council of Canada is a lobby group for the Canadian Retail industry. It too promotes voluntary codes of conduct, and its recommended standard on the sale of products with ephedrine is – Methwatch. Its policy is that “RCC encourages merchants to train their sales personnel to detect the theft and/or the suspicious sale of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products available in your store.”
Both lobby groups are working to create the impression that the retail industry is taking effective steps to prevent the diversion of ephedrine based products into the manufacturing of crystal Meth. In fact the retail industry wants to keep those products on the shelves in grocery stores and general retail stores.
On November 1, 2005 the Manitoba Government announced its strategy would be to restrict “the sale of 17 single-source pseudoephedrine products, the preferred ingredient in making meth, to make them available for sale only behind the counter in pharmacies and limiting quantities to 3,600 mg per purchase”. The announcement didn’t specify the regulatory mechanisms that would be used to accomplish this.
The regulation of the sale of non-prescription drugs in Canada is complicated. There is federal legislation for the screening of drugs. Some drugs are illegal for their illicit uses, and some drugs are just unsafe and not approved. Some drugs are approved for use on prescription and some drugs are licenced generally. If a drug is approved for use and sale, the regulation of the sale process falls under provincial jurisdiction. There is a national coordinating agency, the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities. It sets standards for the sale of individual products and classes of product, which are normally adopted by the provincial regulatory agencies. The Manitoba Prescribed Drug Regulation is indexed to the NAPRA Manual. If NAPRA lists a substance in Schedule 2 of the NAPRA manual, it can only be sold in a licenced pharmacy.
In early December 2005 the National Drug Scheduling Advisory Committee of NAPRA recommended uniform national restrictions on access to ephedrine and pseudoephedrin. The recommendation was to list many products in schedule 2 which would restricting the sale to licenced pharmacies. The NAPRA recommendations would have taken effect on January 6, 2006 in the absence of a “valid objection”. The Retail Council of Canada has objected, although it is not clear that its objection is going to hold up the national process.
The Manitoba government did not wait for the NAPRA process. On December 5, 2005, Manitoba enacted a regulation to treat all products containing pseudoephedrine as “drugs” under the Pharmaceutical Act effective in January. The regulation took those products out of retail trade except in licensed pharmacies. The other piece of the strategy was a dispensing standard limiting the sale by pharmacists to small quantities, which is what the Free Press story was about.
The story did, in the end, make sense. The Free Press didn’t explain the process, and perhaps it was just too complicated, in the eyes of journalists, to be worth explaining. Along the way, I found out that the retail industry is dispensing bullshit about its involvement with fighting addiction. Which brings me to another charming bit. I was Googling to find the background, and when I Googled ephedrine, the tops hits were sponsored links to buy it online.
The other story was based on an interview with a woman whose daughter started to use crystal, went out of control, left home and died in a car accident. She is supporting educational programs by participating in a video, speaking at schools and by talking to the media. Her daughter had been a student at Dakota Collegiate, a suburban school. The suburbs and malls are a flourishing part of the teen drug culture. N. found friends in that area, and he found that it was safer than downtown, where the gangs have more direct territorial control.
I admire her determination to try to get some clear information about the risks of drugs to the public, but she is working against powerful cultural forces. I don’t know how to make a dent in the consciousness of a teenager supported by a whole culture that encourages teens to experience their lives as the consumers of sensations, and denies the validity and authority of adult experience. The entertainment industry, the advertising industry, the retail industry and the media have given children a lifetime of indoctrination in the value of consumption and their right to have fun.
The story broke with some cultural stereotypes. The general image of the modern parent is that the parent is responsible for providing a child with a healthy flow of education and entertainment, and that a parent is ultimately responsible for a a child’s failings. There is a pervasive assumption that children will be good unless traumatized by force or emotional deprivation. The girl had done well in school and had been involved in sports. She had a life. Her mother was involved and doing all the right things. Educators and psychologists throw around a cliche about parents not “knowing the kids”, as if that explains why kids go wrong. That one doesn’t seems to stick to her. She was good parent. She raised her child the way that everyone else does, and one day her daughter made a fatal mistake.

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