Mississippi law essentially eliminates meth labs

Mississippi law essentially eliminates meth labs, Tennessee hopes to do the same

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"My life was devastated by meth," admits Shane Garrard. "I had destroyed everyone around me, I was destroying my community along with my family." "My life was devastated by meth," admits Shane Garrard. "I had destroyed everyone around me, I was destroying my community along with my family."
"There's definitely been a decrease in the amount of product going off the shelves but its also the product is getting into the hands of people who really need it instead of people using it for illegal purposes," said pharmacist Kenny Willoughby. "There's definitely been a decrease in the amount of product going off the shelves but its also the product is getting into the hands of people who really need it instead of people using it for illegal purposes," said pharmacist Kenny Willoughby.
Some who want the drug to fight a cold have adjusted to the law, calling a doctor for a prescription. Others came up with their own plans. Some who want the drug to fight a cold have adjusted to the law, calling a doctor for a prescription. Others came up with their own plans.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

JACKSON, Miss. (WATE) – Driving through Mississippi these days, you'd be hard-pressed to find a meth lab. But that wasn't the case just a few years ago.

Mississippi made pseudoephedrine only available through a prescription in 2010, and supporters say it has essentially eliminated meth labs. Lawmakers in Tennessee hope passing a similar law will have the same effect in the Volunteer State.

Tennessee continues to rank in the top two states in the nation for the highest number of meth labs, and a recent report shows current efforts aren't working.

6 News traveled to Mississippi to investigate how the law is working.

According to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, law enforcement have busted just one meth lab in the entire state in the last six months. It was at a home about 20 miles outside the state capitol.

In our effort to learn how the meth epidemic has changed in Mississippi, we met Shane Garrard.

"My life was devastated by meth," admits Garrard. "I had destroyed everyone around me, I was destroying my community along with my family."

Garrard has been clean for 12 years. Back when he was using and cooking, meth was everywhere in Mississippi.

"On just about every corner, in mobile homes, doing it in cars. It was so rampant. There was just no stopping it," he described.

He still remembers just how easy it was to cook.

"Before the pseudoephedrine law, you [could] walk into just about any store like Walmart and buy every ingredient you need to make meth," Garrard said.

When they took away the main ingredient, they made it nearly impossible to manufacture the drug.

"We don't have meth labs anymore in Mississippi for all intents and purposes," Marshall Fisher stated.

Marshall Fisher is the Director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. He was instrumental in passing of the 2010 law.

We wanted to know how that law changed the fight against meth.

"Before this law went into effect, agents were on the street literally every night dismantling and dealing with these meth labs," Fisher explained.

We requested the statistics from Mississippi's Bureau of Narcotics and Tennessee's Meth Task Force.

In 2009, before the law, Mississippi had 692 total meth incidents, that includes, labs, dumpsites and seizures. Compare that to Tennessee with 1,437 in the same year.

In 2013, Mississippi had 119 meth incidents. They had only eight labs. That is a decrease of 83 percent in four years. In Tennessee, there were 1,685 incidents. That's an increase of 17 percent.

According to a 2013 study conducted by the Government Accountability Office, meth lab incidents declined following state and federal restrictions on pseudoephedrine.

The GAO study found electronic tracking systems, such as Tennessee's NPLEX, help enforce sale limits of pseudoephedrine, but they have no reduced meth lab incidents.

The incidents have reduced in Mississippi.

"The numbers don't lie," said Fisher. "Out of all the things that don't work, this works. This is a self-inflicted epidemic and we can fix it."

Pharmacist Kenny Willoughby runs Polk Discount Drugs in Florence, Miss. It's located just a few miles from the only meth lab their county's seen all year.

"There's definitely been a decrease in the amount of product going off the shelves but its also the product is getting into the hands of people who really need it instead of people using it for illegal purposes," said Willoughby.

He said it took a while for doctors to adjust to the new law.

"Once the doctors got on board, it was easier, you still don't see the volume leaving the store years ago," he explained.

How has this law affected the people of Mississippi who simply want to buy pseudoephedrine to treat the common cold? We took to the streets of Jackson to find out.

"Having to have a prescription is a problem. I don't want to go to a doctor just to buy cold medicine," explained Carl Brooking of Jackson."

"I have bad allergy problems so it's a little inconvenient when the only thing that works is Claritin D," said Julia Weems, of Jackson.

Some have adjusted, like Weems, calling a doctor for a prescription.

"Part of me thinks any kind of legislation that can help curb that is a good thing so I don't mind," Weems said.

Others have come up with their own solutions.

"I just buy it out of state when I'm out of state and stock up, essentially," admitted Brooking.

Technically that's not allowed. In accordance with the law, it is illegal to even possess pseudoephedrine without a prescription.

Still others have turned to new over-the-counter drugs.

"The nonprescription item, phenylephrine, is a decongestant but it doesn't work nearly as good as the pseudo," explained pharmacist Kenny Willoughby. "But it's also not useful for making meth."

According to the GAO study, while prescription-only approach has contributed to reductions in lab incidents but the impact on consumers is unclear.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association conducted a study analyzing the potential economic consequences of a prescription requirement.

The CHPA represents the leading manufacturers of over-the-counter mediations. Their study estimates lost productivity due to cold and allergy symptoms is currently $524 million. Under a prescription requirement this would increase. Every one percent increase in this cost translates to a loss of $5.24 million.

There's still plenty of meth in Mississippi.  Some of it is still being produced in the state with pseudoephedrine brought in from across state lines.  The rest is coming from south of the border.

"The Mexicans are still moving methamphetamine into Mississippi. Mississippi just like Tennessee is impacted by the cartels and Mexico," said Fisher.

Hinds County, Miss. deputies made the largest meth bust in the county's history last summer. Nearly 10 kilograms of crystal meth, or "ice," was brought up from Mexico, valued at $1.3 million. With fewer meth labs because of the pseudoephedrine law, more manpower can be devoted to battling drug traffickers.

"We can focus on them instead of these mom-and-pop shake-and-bake hazardous waste sites," explained Fisher.  

Those waste sites cost thousands of dollars to clean up and cost the community so much more.

Shane Garrard is now trying to fix the community.

"I know it's a hassle for individuals to call in a prescription, but we stopped it. We stopped it cold," Garrard said.

Garrard got clean at Fairland Treatment Center. He now works there as Director of Residential Services. He's seen the differences the laws made at the treatment center.

"Over half those beds used to be pure meth users, now I might have one or two that have used meth there now," said Garrard. "We haven't cut out addiction, what we've done is saved the people around them. We've saved that part. The battle against addiction is ongoing, but we suit up every day and we battle."

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