Robert J. Caldwell
Dear Mr. Caldwell:
Steve Suo's series of articles titled "Unnecessary Epidemic" shortchanges DEA's efforts and successes to immunize this country against the plague of methamphetamine. Oregonian readers deserve to know the full story of our fight against the drug, instead of relying on the series' outdated, incomplete data.
Mr. Suo would have readers believe that the DEA has "overlooked" super labs -- those meth labs on the West Coast that supply the bulk of methamphetamine across the United States. In fact, law enforcement has seen a dramatic decline in U.S. based meth super labs since 2001. The DEA accomplished this through the combined efforts and heroic work of state and local law enforcement, our agents and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Together we focused on blocking bulk pseudoephedrine -- the principal precursor chemical used in methamphetamine production -- from making its way from major Canadian chemical wholesalers to the United States and into the hands of super lab cooks. As a result of these efforts, since 2001, law enforcement officers have seen 62 percent fewer methamphetamine super labs in the United States. Enforcement worked so well that there was little left of super labs or diverted bulk chemicals to go after -- pseudoephedrine and ephedrine seizures at the Canadian border dropped a staggering 85 percent, and the price of bulk pseudoephedrine in California doubled. Just last month, the DEA arrested 90 methamphetamine and ephedrine traffickers along with their accomplices in a single operation.
Mr. Suo erroneously reports that DEA has limited its methamphetamine enforcement initiatives with too little money or manpower, claiming the agency spends only $20 million a year to track the flow of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. To the contrary, DEA spends seven times that amount - $140 million annually - on enforcement, tracking chemicals and investigating illegal shipments of pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and other precursors used to make methamphetamine. DEA has 535 full time Diversion Investigators -- not the 100 total investigators cited by Mr. Suo -- all of whom receive extensive chemical control investigation training.
In the past seven years, more than 2,000 chemical registrants have been denied, surrendered or withdrew their registration licenses or applications as a result of DEA investigations. Between 2001 and 2003, DEA Diversion Investigators physically inspected almost half of the 3,000 chemical registrants at their places of business, investigating the adequacy of their security safeguards to prevent the diversion of chemicals to the illicit market and auditing their recordkeeping to ensure compliance with federal regulations.
An Oregonian editorial about Mr. Suo's articles suggests that U.S. methamphetamine production could be stopped if DEA would simply ask India and other chemical exporting countries to give us all their shipping records and control their pseudoephedrine exports. In fact, DEA has asked India and a host of other nations to stop these shipments, but those countries have no legal obligation to do so. The 1988 United Nations Vienna Convention Treaty outlines global cooperation on stopping amphetamine trafficking. Unfortunately, the treaty does not include pseudoephedrine combination products used to manufacture methamphetamine. Without changing that treaty and its loophole, the DEA has little or no power to demand shipment information. Despite these difficulties, DEA is working with overseas officials to prevent the diversion of pseudoephedrine from Europe, China and India. Additionally, through DEA's collaborative efforts with some willing countries, we have tracked shipments from those countries into Mexico, leading to the arrest of Mexican pseudoephedrine brokers and the seizure of millions of pseudoephedrine tablets during the past year.
Although we have achieved great success putting super labs and methamphetamine precursor chemical suppliers out of business, DEA needs more help from lawmakers to put the thousands of smaller toxic methamphetamine labs out of business.
Last April, the State of Oklahoma passed a hard hitting law that helps do that. Oklahoma took action after methamphetamine related incidents took the lives of three Oklahoma State Troopers. Oklahoma lawmakers were fed up with the skyrocketing number of small toxic methamphetamine labs endangering the public and the environment so they passed the "Nik Greene, Rocky Eales, Matthew Evans Act.” This first-of-its-kind law states that only pharmacies can sell pseudoephedrine "cold remedy" products. It goes even farther and requires pharmacists to dispense those drugs from behind the counter (without the necessity of a prescription), requires customers to show ID and limits purchases to approximately twelve, 24 tablet cold remedy packages per month. The results are staggering -- meth lab seizures in Oklahoma are down 50 percent in the first six months of the new law.
Recently, in response to a request from Governor Ted Kulongoski, the Oregon Board of Pharmacy adopted temporary administrative rules that restrict the sale of cold medicine products. Although these rules do not go as far as the Oklahoma law, they are a good first step and DEA commends Oregon as it joins the growing list of states nationwide taking the initiative to reduce access to the products used in the production of methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine is no "kiddie dope" to DEA, as anonymously portrayed in Mr. Suo's articles. Every day, the men and women of DEA witness first hand the tragic consequences of methamphetamine trafficking and abuse. We see the carnage wrought from the manufacturing, trafficking, and abuse of this poison: the broken families, the addictions that steal away so much, and the loss of life. DEA is fighting on the front lines --- from the streets of Portland, to America's heartland, and across our borders in Mexico and faraway places like China --- to make the methamphetamine epidemic a closed chapter in our history.
Karen P. Tandy