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Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Holds Hearing on
Methamphetamine and Making Pseudoephedrine Prescription Only

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Washington, DCU.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa) co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, held a hearing on methamphetamine and Oregon’s experience making pseudoephedrine prescription only. Pseudoephedrine, a chemical used to make methamphetamine, is commonly found in decongestants and cold medicines.

Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s prepared opening remarks:

            Since 1996, I have authored several pieces of legislation in an effort to control the ongoing methamphetamine problem in the United States. Yet meth labs continue to plague our neighborhoods. Drug traffickers have grown more sophisticated in figuring ways around laws to obtain precursor chemicals to produce meth.

  • In 1996, Senator Hatch and I introduced and passed the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act.  The legislation established new controls over meth precursors and increased the criminal penalties for possession and distribution of methamphetamine.
  • In 2005, Senator Talent and I passed the Combat Methamphetamine Enhancement Act.  The legislation required that individuals attempting to purchase a pseudoephedrine substance present a valid federal or state photo ID at point-of-purchase and restricted the amount any individual could purchase in a 30-day period.
  • In 2007 I sponsored a bill to extend grants for drug endangered children.
  • This Congress, the Senate passed the Combat Methamphetamine Enhancement Act of 2009, requiring all regulated retail sellers of chemical products used to make meth to submit self-certifications of compliance to the Attorney General. 

It’s clear we need to be a step ahead, and increase controls on the availability of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products used to manufacture methamphetamine in California and across the United States. The question is: how do we do this?

Thanks to the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, today there are restrictions on the purchase of over-the-counter products containing pseudoephedrine.  Any product containing this ingredient must be kept behind the counter, and there are limitations on the quantity that an individual may purchase.

But illegal drug manufacturers have found ways to circumvent this law. They send out individuals known as “smurfers,” people who go from store to store purchasing packs of cold medications.  They are organized and deployed throughout commercial districts and shopping centers to make purchases within the lawful limit.  Some of them carry fraudulent identification.

In 2006, Oklahoma deployed the first system to electronically track pseudoephedrine purchases, followed by Arkansas and Kentucky.  However, these tracking systems are increasingly ineffective as pseudoephedrine smuggling groups find ways to counter them.

The Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy told my office that since Kentucky initiated a statewide tracking system in June 2008, “electronic tracking has not had the prevention effect they had hoped it would.”  In fact in 2007, the year before the electronic system was deployed, Kentucky reported 309 labs.  In 2008 there were 427 labs and in 2009, there were a 716 labs discovered.  So these electronic tracking systems have not reduced meth labs over the long run in the states where they have been deployed.

During a visit to Fresno this month, I met with Federal, state and local law enforcement. I was told about how people evade tracking systems using fake identification.

Retired Los Angeles Police Department and LA IMPACT meth team Detective Rick Gutierrez pointed out that the tracking system, in fact, does not block illicit sales because multiple and fraudulent ID’s are a big problem.
Today in Los Angeles County, there are organized groups who shop for pseudoephedrine using fake IDs on a daily basis.  These individual receive $30 to $35 for each box of $6 pseudoephedrine they buy.  Homeless people are employed and paid $100 per day to buy pseudoephedrine.  He said they will visit every store in Los Angeles. They have their routes. Today is route A, tomorrow is route B.  He said trying to follow these leads is like a cherry orchard and could tie up an entire police force in Los Angeles trying catch these individuals.

According to Detective Gutierrez, 70 to 80 percent of the identifications registered in the electronic systems are bogus.  He showed us 96 pages of records from the electronic tracking system on each page, at least six of the transactions had been made using false identifications.  And this pattern continued for all 96 pages.
 The California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement estimates that at least 50 percent of pseudoephedrine sold in California is being used in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine. 

And in the Central Valley of California, I was told that all pseudoephedrine discovered at labs sites is from retail and pharmacy sales of pseudoephedrine products.

Unfortunately, after a decline following the enactment of the Combat Meth Act in 2005, the number of meth lab has now started to rise again.  According to the El Paso Intelligence Center:

  • By 2007 there were 6,096 meth lab incidents.

  • In 2008 there were 7,316 seizures.
  • Thus far, labs reported to EPIC for 2009 shows an increase in the number of lab incidents to 9,031.

Additionally, the 2010 National Drug Intelligence Center report states that from mid-2008 through 2009, methamphetamine availability increased in the United States.

Oregon Example

Oregon has virtually eliminated its meth lab problem. From 2001 to 2005, the number of meth labs seized in Oregon fell by 68%, from 587 to 189.  After enacting legislation in 2006 that made pseudoephedrine available only by prescription this decreased continued, to the point where EPIC reported 21 lab seizures in Oregon in 2008. 

Oregon authorities and EPIC report that in 2009, only 10 methamphetamine laboratories were discovered.  Oregon has simultaneously seen an increase in people entering drug treatment programs for meth addition.

The number of children being exposed to chemicals in methamphetamine laboratories in Oregon has also decreased.  Prior to the law’s passage, an average of 30 to 40 children were removed from meth labs each year. 

Since the law was enacted, Oregon has only reported one child found in a meth lab environment - and that was from a location that had a residual (non-operating) lab.

According to the FBI’s most recent data, Oregon recorded a 10.6 percent drop in crime in 2008, the largest decrease of any state. 

Earlier this year, Mississippi joined Oregon as the only other state to restrict pseudoephedrine to prescription-only.

In my meeting with more than 25 high ranking law enforcement officers in Fresno this month, I asked how many of them support making pseudoephedrine products available only by prescription.  Every single person raised their hand.

I’m inclined to believe that prescription-only may be the most effective way to reduce domestic meth production. However, I know there are concerns about doing this.  The purpose of today’s hearing is to hear expert testimony.

My hope is that we can agree on a policy that balances the need for consumers to have access to medication with the need to help law enforcement crack down on drug traffickers and meth labs. 

I was instrumental in getting the law changed to require that methamphetamine precursors -- such as Pseudoephedrine, Ephedrine, and Phenlypropanolamine -- be placed behind the counter.  And to require that pharmacies keep track of people who purchase large amounts of over-the-counter cold medicines. But the illicit labs have started to grow again.

We need to redouble efforts to stop this terrible epidemic.  We must do more to block criminals from manufacturing meth.

I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today about the most effective way to accomplish this.

I now turn to my Co-Chairman, Senator Grassley, for his opening statement.