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Meth: Tracking Laws Backfire, Create a New Illegal Market

Electronic systems that track sales of the cold medicine used to make methamphetamine have failed to curb the drug trade and instead created a vast, highly lucrative market for profiteers to buy over-the-counter pills and sell them to meth producers at a huge markup. An Associated Press review of federal data shows that the lure of such easy money has drawn thousands of new people into the methamphetamine underworld over the last few years.
Publication/Source: 
The Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
URL: 
http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/world/51020830-68/meth-tracking-laws-pills.html.csp

Did CVS Buy Its Way Out of a Meth Indictment? [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker

[Editor's Note: Clarence Walker is a veteran Houston-based journalist who writes on criminal justice issues and who dearly wishes this piece was called "CVS in the Hood." He wishes all readers a Happy New Year! Walker can be reached at cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.]

Drug agents across the land pursue their endless war against methamphetamine with relentless vigor, busting tweakers daily and breathlessly trumpeting the seizure of yet another "meth lab," which these days often consists of no more than a couple of soda pop bottles and a few chemicals available from your general store. Yet in the relentless campaign against meth and its manufacturers, it seems some are more equal than others.

CVS, the largest operator of pharmacies in the United States, confessed back in October that it knowingly allowed crystal meth manufacturers to illegally buy large amounts of pseudoephedrine (PSE), an active ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. To avoid criminal prosecution, CVS officials agreed to pay the federal government a $75 million fine for narcotics violations, the largest cash money penalty in the 40-year history of the Controlled Substances Act.

Although pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in over the counter cold medications and is legal to purchase from drug stores in Canada and the US, because it can also be used to make methamphetamine, it is illegal for pharmacies to sell a person more than 3 1/2 grams of PSE per day. But DEA and state narcotic officers eventually learned that meth cooks were able to get around the law by employing "smurfs" -- people working with meth cooks who make repeated legal purchases of PSE at numerous different pharmacies.

As early as 2007, dealers targeted CVS, and according to the DEA, the top CVS officials were warned by employees of the illegal violations. DEA reported that the pharmacy's head honchos ignored the warnings and demanded the workers continue selling the large amounts of PSE in California and Nevada.

Authorities say CVS in effect assisted meth cookers by failing to provide adequate safeguards to monitor the legal amount of PSE that customers could buy. DEA said the violations occurred not only in California and Nevada, but in Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and 23 other states currently under investigation. Between September 2007 and November 2008, CVS's illegal practice of overselling PSE products caused the DEA to tag them as the largest suppliers of pseudoephedrine to meth traffickers in Southern California.

US Assistant Attorney Shana Mintz said, "Rather than choosing to over-comply with the law like their competitors did, they knowingly under-complied with the law."

Federal agents began investigating CVS in 2008 after pseudoephedrine seized at Southern California meth labs was traced back to the pharmacy chain. News media stories reported that CVS installed an automated system called Meth Tracker to track individual sales but that the mechanism didn't stop multiple same-day purchases.

Around Los Angeles, smurfs would hit CVS locations and raid the shelves of PSE products and cough and cold medicine tablets. Prosecutors said that in LA County alone over a 10-month period in 2008, sales of pseudoephedrine products such as Contac, Sudafed, Dimetapp and Chlor-Trimeton increased more than 150% over the same period in 2007.

"CVS knew it had a duty to prevent methamphetamine trafficking, but failed to take steps to control the sale of a regulated drug used by meth traffickers as an essential ingredient for their poisonous stew," said US Attorney Andre Birotte in a statement after the settlement. "This case shows what happens when companies fail to follow their ethical and legal responsibilities," he added.

"This historic settlement underscores DEA's commitment to protect the public's health and safety against the scourge of methamphetamine," said Michele Leonhart, the acting administrator of the DEA, in a statement.  "CVS's flagrant violation of the law resulted in the company becoming a direct link in the meth suppy chain."

While the feds were busy patting themselves on the back, CVS was busy absolving itself. In a statement, CVS Chairman and CEO Thomas Ryan said, "We have resolved this issue which resulted from a breakdown in CVS/pharmacy's normally high management and oversight standards."  The lapse, Ryan said, "was an unacceptable breach of the company's policies and was totally inconsistent with our values."

Small-time meth cooks are routinely sent to prison for years for "drug manufacturing," and people who help them out by buying small amounts of PSE go up the river for conspiracy, but not corporate criminals like CVS. Did the millions CVS paid the government keep company leaders from being indicted on drug charges?

During the DEA investigation of the CVS pharmacies, over 50 people were charged with possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamine for purchasing the PSE products they bought illegally from CVS stores. Each defendant faces prison time, while CVS officials who knowingly allowed the illegal purchase of the drugs get off scot free by paying millions that eventually will be recouped.

The arrest of the CVS smurfs sparked a heated debate about equal justice and disparities in the treatment of small-time smurfs and big-time corporate entities. "It doesn't seem fair to let those like CVS that ignored the law and sold massive amounts of an ingredient to make that poison get away with just a fine. Yes, it's a hefty one, but they'll probably just raise prices to offset it," said Dean Becker, the Houston-based host of KPFT radio.

"As always, the powers that be are utilizing fear and loathing to continue their eternal war. CVS and all the corporations that are subject to the oversight of the DEA are pawns in the game of fear," said Becker. "Why are people using CVS to make speed?"

Attorney Diane Bass says her client has been punished disproportionately while corporate decision-makers go free.
No one is more infuriated with the disparity in treatments of drug offenders, particularly in the CVS case, than California attorney Diane Bass.  Based in Laguna Beach, California, Bass represents one of the female defendants charged in federal court with possession with intent to manufacture the PSE drugs purchased from CVS.

"If this was any other drug case, CVS would be the 'source' of the drugs the government would be most interested in prosecuting, and CVS would receive the longest sentence," she told the Chronicle. "Here, CVS paid a fine of $75 million and walked away without facing criminal prosecution while the small players like my client who are meth addicts trying to earn a few bucks to buy their drugs are facing excessively long prison sentences. This isn't fair. It's outrageous!" Bass said.

"In my client's case, she needed the money to buy her medication for her illness. She's on SSI and had no money to pay for her medicine," the defense attorney explained. "These are certainly not the people that Congress intended to punish when it promulgated the PSE sentencing guidelines. I believe they intended to punish those who actually manufactured methamphetamine -- those whom my client sold the PSE cold medicine to."

Bass complained the disparity in treatment in this case is so unfair she will fight tooth-and-nail for her client to show how corporations break the law an only pay a fine, while the small fry goes to prison.

While corporate behemoths like CVS can buy their way out of trouble, that's not necessarily the case for Ma-and-Pa operations, like that of Oklahoma pharmacist Haskell Lee Evans Jr., 68, a member of the State Board of Health, who was recently indicted for "recklessly" selling pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth -- the same act committed by CVS.

Evans, the owner of Haskell's Prescription Shop in Lawton, Oklahoma, allegedly sold pseudoephedrine to undercover agents with valid licenses who had not exceeded the limit of purchase. The PSE sales were considered "reckless" on one count because the agents arrived in the same vehicle to do a purchase. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmonson is aiming to convict Evans on all accounts and ask a judge to dump him in prison for up to 43 years. Supporters of Haskell Evans are urging pharmacists to join a Facebook page called Pharmacists and Citizens in support of Haskell Evans.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the year-end holiday season, attorney Diane Bass reflected on the year ahead as she prepared to battle the federal government. She intends to ask the court to lessen her client's penalty due to the improper dispensing of the PSE drugs by CVS to the defendant.

"The federal sentencing guidelines in my client's case calls for a sentence around 188 months due to the fact she and her co-defendants purchased several thousand milligrams of pseudoephedrine from CVS," she said. "I have requested that the US attorney recommend a variance or departure based on the fact except for CVS' illegal sales to customers of more than 3.6 grams per day or 9 grams per month, my client never would have been able to purchase the amount she purchased. I believe she should only be sentenced as if she had purchased 9 grams per month which would result in a 60 month variance. Hopefully, since my client suffers from serious medical conditions and has had a tragic life, the court will grant a further down departure in sentencing."

A poor, sick, drug addicted woman's lawyer fights to get her sentence reduced to only 10 years for buying too much of a legal, over-the-counter medicinal product, while CVS gets off the hook by paying millions and has the opportunity to make millions more by staying in business. Disparate justice isn't just about race in America, it's also about class.

New Zealand's War on P (Methamphetamine) Continues, but Price Hardly Changes

Location: 
New Zealand
It has been a year since Prime Minister John Key declared war on the drug P (methamphetamine). The authorities, and Mr. Key, had hoped to see P prices rising as evidence that the anti-P campaign was working. But that hasn't happened.
Publication/Source: 
TV3 (New Zealand)
URL: 
http://www.3news.co.nz/Govts-war-on-P-continues-but-price-hardly-changes/tabid/423/articleID/185310/Default.aspx

CVS Pays Largest Civil Penalty Ever Assessed Under the Controlled Substances Act for Selling Main Meth Ingredient

CVS, the nation's largest drug-store chain, is paying what’s considered the largest civil penalty ever — $75 million — assessed under the Controlled Substances Act as well as forfeiting $2.6 million in profits from the sales of medicines that contain pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient to making meth.
Publication/Source: 
NACS (VA)
URL: 
http://www.nacsonline.com/NACS/News/Daily/Pages/ND1015107.aspx

Campaign Ad Attacks Rand Paul as Soft on Drugs

Kentucky Democratic US Senate hopeful Jack Conway and his allies continue to attack Republican hopeful Rand Paul for his dissent from drug war orthodoxy. The latest salvo came in an attack ad by Common Sense Ten, an independent "super-PAC" that supports Democratic candidates by attacking Republican ones.

While Common Sense Ten is not directly tied to the Conway campaign, its attack on Paul for his perceived "softness" on drugs echoes themes used by Conway and his campaign. (See our recent feature article on drug policy in the Kentucky Senate campaign here.)

"Here's Rand Paul," the narrator of the Common Sense Ten ad intones, then goes to a voiceover of Paul saying, "Things that are nonviolent shouldn't be against the law," while the words "Libertarian Philosophy" appear on the screen.

"Like other libertarians, he says drug laws are too harsh, and Rand Paul says drugs are not a quote pressing issue here in Kentucky," the narrator continues. "Not pressing? Drugs, especially meth are an epidemic in Kentucky. Lives, families, and whole communities are destroyed every day."

The ad then repeats the Paul quote on nonviolent offenses while the words "Ron Paul -- Wrong for Kentucky" appear on the screen.

While the ad waxes hyperbolic ("whole communities are destroyed every day") and metaphoric (meth is "an epidemic in Kentucky"), the numbers don't back up those claims. According to a recent report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, drug use levels in Kentucky are in line with those in the rest of the country. The "epidemic," in other words, is a politically convenient figment of the collective imagination.

Democrat Jack Conway did not pay for the ad and his name does not appear on it. But it appears Conway and Common Sense Ten are all too happy to engage in regressive drug war politics if it will help them win the election. So far, though, it's not working: According to poll aggregator Real Clear Politics, Paul is leading Conway by an average of 46.0% to 41.7%.
 



(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
KY
United States

Montana Meth Project Didn't Reduce Use, Study Finds

In 2005, Montana had one of the highest rates of methamphetamine use in the country, and businessman Thomas Siebel responded with the Montana Meth Project, an anti-meth campaign relying on graphic advertisements feature users' bodies decaying, teen girls prostituting themselves for meth, teens committing violent crimes to support their habits, and groups of young meth users allowing their friends to die.

The project has been widely touted as reducing meth use rates in Montana, and the Montana Meth Project makes similar claims on its results page. Based on claimed results in Montana, similar programs have gotten underway in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Hawaii and, this past March, Georgia.

But a new study from the University of Washington published in this month's issue of the Journal of Health Economics casts doubt on the project's claim to have influenced meth use rates. The rate of meth use in Montana was already declining by the time the Montana Meth Project got underway, the study found.

"Methamphetamine use was trending downward already, and the research shows that the project has had no discernable impact on meth use," said study author D. Mark Anderson, a UW doctoral student in economics.

Anderson said the project had not been empirically and rigorously scrutinized until his study. Using data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anderson compared meth use rates to rates nationwide and in nearby states. Using demographically similar Wyoming and North Dakota, which undertook no anti-meth project programs, as control cases, Anderson showed that in all three states, meth use declined gradually between 1999 and 2009.

Anderson also scrutinized drug treatment admission reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and found that the Montana Meth Project had no measurable effect on meth use among young Montanans. His findings suggested that other factors, such as law enforcement crackdowns prior to 2005 or increasing knowledge of the ill-effects of meth use, were more likely to have led to declining levels of meth use.

"Perhaps word got around on the street, long before the campaign was adopted, that meth is devastating," Anderson said. "Future research, perhaps of meth projects in the other states, should determine whether factors that preceded the campaigns contributed to decreases in usage."

MT
United States

Sending a Meth Message, Does It Work?

For the second year, graphic television ads showing actors portraying pathetic and physically damaged drug addicts remind people about the danger of methamphetamine -- but does the scary message work? "It does not prevent future use. They're not effective," Jeanne Y. Ohta, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, says of the frightening TV commercial prepared by the Hawaii Meth Project.
Publication/Source: 
The Star-Advertiser (HI)
URL: 
http://www.staradvertiser.com/editorials/20100919_Sending_a_meth_message_does_it_work.html

American Gets Drug Death Sentence in Indonesia

A court in Jakarta has sentenced a US citizen to death for his role in an international drug trafficking organization, the Jakarta Globe reported Wednesday. Frank Amado, 46, had been arrested in October carrying more than a pound of methamphetamine outside of his apartment. Police found 11 more pounds of meth when they searched his apartment.

"Considering that during the hearings there was nothing that could lighten the defendant's sentence, and that after deliberations the judges found the defendant proven guilty of the primary charge against him, the defendant is sentenced to death," presiding Judge Dehel Sandan said as he read out the court’s verdict. "Frank intentionally committed a criminal act, unlawfully becoming a courier in a Class I narcotics trade together with Peyman bin Azizallah aka Sorena aka Paulo Russo," Judge Dehel continued.

Peyman, an Iranian citizen, had been getting drugs from two other Iranians, who fled and are still at large. Peyman then turned the drugs over to Amado for delivery. It's unclear what happened to Peyman.

"The defendant was actively involved in a large-scale drug trade that could have fatal consequences for society, especially the younger generation. The sentence was to act as a deterrent for foreigners involved in the drug trade," Judge Dehel said.

According to a June report from the   International Harm Reduction Association , The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses 2010: A Global Overview, Indonesia is one of a group eight Asian and Middle Eastern nations with a "low commitment" to the death penalty for drug offenses, meaning that while they had the death penalty on the books for drug offenses, they applied it sparingly in practice.

The report said two people were executed for drug crimes in 2008 and none last year. But of 111 people on Indonesia's death row, 56 are there for drugs.

Jakarta
Indonesia

Sentencing: Penalties for Some Colorado Drug Possession Decrease Under New Law

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) Tuesday signed into law a package of criminal justice reform bills, including one that will reduce penalties for some drug possession offenses, one that will give judges increased discretion in sentencing, and one that will broaden parole eligibility. Of the 10 bills in the package, six were based on recommendations from the Colorado Commission on Criminal Justice, which Ritter formed in 2007 to try to get a grip on skyrocketing criminal justice and corrections costs.

"Our criminal justice system is tasked with one of the most important responsibilities in our society -- maintaining public safety and protecting communities," said Gov. Ritter, who served as Denver's district attorney for 12 years before becoming governor. "What we have created here in Colorado, particularly the past few years, is a system that is tough on crime and smart on crime. We can do both. We are doing both, because public safety is not a zero-sum game. Certainly, we can always do better. We can always make improvements. And that's what we are doing here today by signing this legislation into law."

HB 1352 reduces the penalty for the illegal use of drugs (excluding marijuana, which is already decriminalized) from a felony to a misdemeanor and removes the word "possess" from the statute regarding drug sales and manufacture. It also reduces the penalties for the simple possession of most drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But not all drugs. Possession of Rohypnol, ketamine, or methamphetamine would remain a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The misdemeanor possessors of other drugs, including heroin and cocaine, would face only 18 months.

But the bill also increases penalties for drug sales and manufacturing offenses to 12 years. Those convicted of importing drugs into the state or using guns face up to 48 years, and anyone convicted of supplying marijuana to someone younger than 15 faces a mandatory minimum four years.

Still, the bill commits $1.5 million in expected savings in prison costs to treatment and rehabilitation. Overall, the changes in sentencing, probation, and parole in the package are expected to save the state $3.6 million a year.

HB 1338, sponsored by Sen. Pat Steadman, allows judges to exercise more discretion in sentencing by allowing them to sentence some two-time felons to probation instead of prison. The provision does not apply to those whose prior felonies were specified violent crimes or offenses against children.

"HB 1338 restores judicial discretion in sentencing certain nonviolent offenders to probation rather than prison. This bill saves money and saves lives," Sen. Pat Steadman said.

HB 1360 allows community punishment instead of re-imprisonment for people on parole for low-level, nonviolent crimes who commit technical parole violations, such as a dirty drug test, missing an appointment, or moving without reporting the move.

"It saves the state millions of dollars by providing more intermediate sanctions for technical parole violators," said bill cosponsor Rep. Sal Pace. "These programs not only save the state money, but more importantly they are proven though research to reduce recidivism rates. That means fewer crimes, fewer victims and greater cost savings in the future."

Feature: First Drug User Union Forms in San Francisco

Thanks to the on-the-ground efforts of local harm reductionists and the funding largesse of the Drug Policy Alliance, San Francisco is now the home of only the second drug user union in the United States. The nascent effort is just getting off the ground, but plans to follow in the footsteps of Canada's Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and the New York City VOCAL drug user union affiliated with the NYC Aids Housing Network.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sfusersunion3.jpg
While self-identified drug user unions are rare in the US, they have a history dating back to the Dutch "junkiebund" of the 1970s. The movement is currently spreading internationally, with affiliates of the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD) operating in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. And while medical marijuana patients did not refer to themselves as drug users, they have done similar organizing based on their use of the weed.

"We gave a $35,000 grant to the Harm Reduction Therapy Center to organize drug users in San Francisco, said Laura Thomas, DPA California state deputy director. "It is an annual grant, and future funding depends on HRTC re-applying for the funds. We have funded VOCAL in New York for several years."

DPA sees drug user groups as a key component in efforts to reduce the harms of both drug use and prohibitionist drug policies, said Thomas. "We hope that drug users in San Francisco will have a voice in policy decisions that affect them," she said. "We hope that they will become an active and organized part of efforts to reduce the harm related to both drugs and the war on drugs in San Francisco. The group is still in the process of forming and determining what their priority issues are, so I can't speak for what they are going to be working on."

"While we haven't quite chosen our main campaign, we've been talking about what we would ideally like San Francisco to look like, about having a safe place to inject, and about having a safe place to consume other drugs, too," said Alexandra Goldman, the organizer for the group. "Within a couple of months, we will choose our first official campaign," she vowed.

"We are also interested in working to decrease the stigma, both within and outside the drug using community," Goldman added. "We're trying to work with health care providers to make it a more positive experience. Our people tend to wait until they are very seriously ill because they are not treated very well. In our meetings, I'm hearing about how people don't get the prescribed pain medications they need because the doctors don't like them."

The group has already been active, joining in protests against the city's proposed ordinance barring people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks. Homeless people in neighborhoods like Haight-Asbury have roused the ire of business owners with their presence, but activists say they have no place to go and should not be criminalized.

The SF Drug User Union participation in the sit/lie protests makes sense given that many of its members are homeless and that its meetings are generally being held in homeless drop-in centers in the Tenderloin and the Mission. The group boasts about 25 members, with an emerging core group of 10 or 12, but is looking to expand by working with lower income communities and people involved in local harm reduction networks.

"We plan to be active consumers, giving our opinions and our voice on issues and policies that affect us," said Isaac Jackson, the other paid staffer for the union. "People are already asking us for our expertise."

So who can join the union? Anyone who identifies as a drug user, past or present, organizers said. Defining members in that manner allows people to get active without necessarily outing themselves as current users.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sfusersunion4.jpg
"There is no piss test to get into this group," said Jackson. "We have heroin users, speed users, people who drink, pot smokers. Some people think pot's not a big issue, but anyone who wants to work with us, we say 'right on.' We support the legalization campaign and we support medical marijuana. That's a success story, and so is needle exchange, and we'll be trying to learn from those."

The only rule at meetings is no drug dealing, said Jackson. "We don't want people to deal drugs at the meeting or endanger other people in the group by that kind of activity, but if people are carrying, so what? Some people have showed up tweaking. We don't want to say they can't come because they're too high. We want people to feel welcome whatever their level of sobriety."

Forming a drug user union in San Francisco has been an idea that's been batted around for at least a couple of years, but it took some cold, hard cash to make it happen. "There were some attempts to organize drug users in the past, and I was involved in those, but they didn't stick because people had other jobs," said Goldman. "But once that Drug Policy Alliance grant came in, I got hired in November and we had our first meetings in February."

"I worked at a small health agency working with homeless people with substance use here in the Tenderloin, and was also working with some people with the Youth Homeless Alliance in the Haight," said Jackson. "A lot of people said we ought to do something like VANDU. We had a conference here a couple of years ago to try to jump-start a safe injection site, but that was mostly health care providers, not drug users."

San Francisco has one of the highest rates of drug use per capita in the country, Jackson noted. "Since there is so much civil disobedience going on already -- the laws are wrong, when you have thousands of people doing something for a long period of time, it's like passive civil disobedience -- there was an opportunity there to give drug users a voice in a more organized way. We're consumers of all these services -- treatment, law enforcement, the whole drug industrial complex -- we're consumers and have no voice. The time was right for it to start here."

San Francisco organizers took advantage of last fall's DPA conference to learn from existing drug user groups on the continent. "I met with Ann Livingston from VANDU and I got in touch with some of the folks from VOCAL," Goldman said. "They work on stuff around syringe exchange, trying to pass statewide ordinances to keep police from hassling people with needles, things like that. And, of course, they're subject to the same ridiculous drug laws we are."

"Drug user groups such as VOCAL in New York, VANDU in Vancouver, and hopefully this group in San Francisco play an important role in drug policy change and ending the war on drugs," Thomas said. "Drug users are usually the people most directly affected by bad drug policies, and the least likely to have a voice in debates. Drug users as active participants in the political process also helps reduce the stigma that is attached to drug use and makes people reconsider their prejudices about what they think 'drug users' are like. The drug policy reform conversation can only benefit from the active participation of drug user groups."

Separate drug user union meetings are taking place every three weeks in the Tenderloin and Mission districts. For more information about joining the union, send an email to sf.users.union@gmail.com.

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