The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 15, 2005

Nation seeks a solution on meth

As methamphetamine moves from the rural Heartland into American cities, police, experts and health officials sort through their toolbox for ways to fight the epidemic.

It’s a challenge that can be seen from the darting eyes of recovering users to the wringing hands of concerned citizens.

But allowing use to spread unimpeded is costly to the public pocketbook.

More than 12 million people in the United States have used meth at least once, estimated a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey. More women now use meth than cocaine.

Despite its spread, methamphetamine remains a rural drug in much of the country.

Take Maryland, where meth use is most common in the state’s western hills, said Vern Conaway, commander of drug enforcement for Maryland State Police.

Clubgoers in the Baltimore area use crystal meth and ecstasy, two forms of methamphetamine. But Conaway said the most common profile of a meth user in Maryland is a middle-aged employed white male of low to moderate income who lives in the countryside.

Retailers faced meth-related costs after pseudoephedrine, a legal cold medicine ingredient, was targeted for its role in producing meth. Some retailers were concerned about convenient access to the products. A wave of state regulations restricted sale, but some companies did not wait for the laws before they made changes.

In February, Pfizer, the maker of Sudafed, launched Sudafed PE, a decongestant that uses phenylephrine instead of pseudoephedrine. The similar drug is not used in meth labs.

Erica Johnson, a Pfizer spokeswoman, said the company responded to the problem of its products being misused, not the tide of state laws. Pfizer continues to market both types of Sudafed.

Target stores took pseudoephedrine behind counters at pharmacies, though it means only locations with pharmacies can sell the medicine, said Brie Heath, spokeswoman in Minneapolis. By July, the policy was implemented in all stores.

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