Communities in the heartland of America are fighting an epidemic of methamphetamine labs.
The driving force behind the scourge? Big Pharma.
From Missouri to Mississippi, from Oregon to West Virginia, political battles are being waged. On one side — law enforcement and first responders.
They want a key ingredient used to make meth — pseudoephedrine — to be made prescription only.
Both Oregon and Mississippi have in recent years passed legislation that would do exactly that. And as a result, meth labs in those states have been crippled.
But in an effort to protect a billion dollar industry, Big Pharma is sending lobbyists all around the country to make sure that other states don’t follow suit.
Jason Grellner is on the front lines of the battle against Big Pharma. Grellner is the vice president of the National Narcotics Officers Association Coalition.
Grellner says that upwards of 80 percent of all pseudoephedrine sales in the United States are being used to make meth.
“When you see people who are willing to stand in a Walgreens parking lot and shoulder tap individuals and ask them to buy a box of pseudoephedrine while they are in the store and give them $20 to do it, then you know that it’s a large percentage,” Grellner told Corporate Crime Reporter last week. “We see labs that have 20, 60, 70, 100 boxes in one lab.”
Other than the National Narcotics Officers Association Coalition, what other law enforcement associations have come out in favor of the prescription only legislation similar to the laws passed in Oregon and Mississippi?
“It varies from state to state,” Grellner said. “In Missouri, the Missouri Sheriffs Association is in favor. The Missouri State Troopers Association is in favor. The Missouri Police Chiefs Association is in favor. The Missouri Fraternal Officers, Peace Officers Association, the Firefighters Association. They are all in favor of it. You have all of these people in the public sector who work day to day with these volatile labs and the addicts. And they are all in favor of the legislation. And yet each year, it is beaten back by heavy lobbying and lobbying money.”
The untold story is in the battle to cripple meth labs?
Law enforcement against the pharmaceutical industry.
“It’s Big Pharma’s strong lobbying power and money,” Grellner said. “We in the public sector don’t have the money to counter their lobbying money. We don’t have the money to hire highly paid lobbyists, and to give money to almost every lobbyist in the capital. It goes back to what people complain about most often — and that’s the lobbying at all levels — at the state and federal level — that sometimes overrides the will of the people. And that’s what you are seeing on this issue. They are able to stir up such fervor with editorials in the newspapers, with blogs, with e-mail chains, with three way calling.”
“I can remember on multiple occasions where people were being three-way called into city halls in towns with 1,200 people. And it’s being paid by the Consumer Health Care Products Association.”
They are trying to beat the local resolutions?
“They are working at the local level in towns with fewer than 800 people,” Grellner said. “They have seen the effects that prescription only ordinances have and that grassroots campaigns have. In many of these small communities, when citizens go to their city council meetings, they have never seen a national lobbyist before.”
“Drug abuse in this country is about two things. The disease of addiction. And greed, profitability. Whether it be a Mexican cartel trying to get as much money as they can out of this country and feeding the disease of addiction through cocaine, heroin, marijuana or meth. Or in this case, where you have 75 million boxes being sold a year netting the industry nearly $1 billion a year, versus the disease of methamphetamine addiction.”
“Drug abuse comes down to those two things. Somebody has the brain disease of addiction. And somebody is getting paid.”
“In 2012, the industry sold over 75 million boxes of pseudoephedrine in the United States. That’s $1 billion a year in sales.”
“They believe that no matter how few people there are on their side, if they can magnify that voice, it will make them appear as if they are in the right,” Grellner said. “They stand now with libertarians and constitutionalists — this is big government getting in people’s way, this is the government trying to get into your medicine cabinet. That ideology seems to ring true with some people who might not even have taken pseudoephedrine.”
Grellner says that one reason police are so involved in this issue is because it poses a direct threat to their safety.
“Back in the late 1990s, there weren’t very many people here in the Midwest who knew how to make meth. And those that did know how did it away from home,” Grellner said.
“They did it in cabins and fishing lodges. But then people started saying — it takes too much time to go out in the woods. I’ll just do it in the house and I’ll make sure that the kids aren’t around when I’m doing it.”
“Then as we moved into the mid 2000s, it was okay to do it while the kids were in their bedrooms, just as long as the parents were making meth in the garage. Then as we moved to 2010, it became okay to make meth in the kitchen while the kids were watching Scooby Doo in the living room. And we started to see more and more fires and explosions.”
“Today, we are at a point here in Franklin County that we are out of foster care families for children. The largest percentage of the kids in foster care are there because of methamphetamine laboratories. And then, with the crash of the economy, we started seeing people moving in with their parents, parents with their sons and daughters. And suddenly, we have elderly trapped in homes where methamphetamine is being manufactured. So, at one point we were working a lot with the Division of Family Services. Now, we are working with the Division of Aging, trying to get a safe place for these elderly people to stay.”
“And you have an environmental problem. All of the waste coming from a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory is classified as hazardous waste. You have people throwing the waste on roadsides, they are putting it in ponds, they are throwing it into rivers and streams. And animals are being killed. Dogs are getting into meth lab trash on the side of the road and the dogs are dying.”
“And then there are the problems for the first responders — the firefighters, the police officers, the EMTs and paramedics. As I talk to you today, I’m missing 27 percent of my lung capacity from a meth lab, which happened to be the third one of the day that I was working in a 26 hour period. It’s very hard to do an investigation at meth lab, walk into a house in a moon suit with a respirator on and hold a conversation with individuals about whether or not they are manufacturing methamphetamine.”
How many first responders have been injured at meth lab sites?
“I don’t have a handle on it. I can tell you that when I teach, people come up and tell me their horror stories of things they have inhaled, spills, fires to conceal evidence. And they have had to inhale the fumes coming off burning meth labs. So a whole host of law enforcement officials have been adversely affected — have had their lives shortened — by meth labs.”
Russell Mokhiber edits Corporate Crime Reporter.