Williams updates JPs on methamphetamine litigation

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

BERRYVILLE -- While the Carroll County Quorum Court declined to approve a resolution to enter into a class action suit against manufacturers of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, County Judge Richard Williams recently supplied justices of the peace with an update on methamphetamine litigation by Mike Rainwater of Rainwater, Holt and Sexton, P.A., legal counsel for risk management for the Association of Arkansas Counties.

The update includes a copy of an April 25 news story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which states that the suit against national drug manufacturers was brought because the companies "knowingly sold far in excess of the amount necessary for any legitimate use to producers of the illicit drug methamphetamine."

Williams said he had no idea if the Carroll County resolution to enter into the suit would be re-introduced. "That's up to the JPs," he said.

The suit, filed in Independence County Circuit Court on March 21, names the companies of Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Parrigo Co., PDK Labs Inc and Warner Lambert, as well as Arkansas companies American Novelties Inc., and McQuay Sales Co.

The suit somewhat follows the pattern set by national tobacco litigation, which resulted in a settlement to all states. However, Arkansas has not yet decided to sign on to it.

Attorneys watching the development of the case generally feel it has merit, claiming that the companies knew their products were being used to make methamphetamine.

If successful, it could open up litigation against manufacturers of other produce used in making meth, such as drain cleaners and acetone.

For several years now, methamphetamine has been a prominent factor in the Arkansas courts system. The statewide drug court program was instituted largely to address the addictive nature of the drug.

Arkansas currently ranks 10th in the nation for the number of meth treatment admissions per 100,000 residents, with 110 in 2003. In 2005, the state legislators required that cold medicines with ephedrine and pseudoephedrine be sold behind the counter only to people who showed identification, with the result of a 50 percent reduction in the number of meth lab seizures.

Until that time, Carroll County had a reputation of being at "ground zero" of the state's meth epidemic. So far in 2007, sex-related crime seem to outnumber meth lab crimes in the county.

The meth epidemic started on the West Coast in the 1980s among biker gangs, and only recently has surfaced in the northeastern United States.

Arkansas' 10th place ranking is exceeded, in order from first place, by Oregon, Hawaii, Iowa, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, Washington and Montana. At the bottom of the list are Vermont, Rhode Island and West Virginia, with one person each entering rehabilitation for meth addiction.

Because the meth problem began as a rural phenomenon, only recently has the national government addressed the issue.

The Combat Meth Act was signed on March 9, 2006, providing minimum standards for retailers selling ephedrine and pseudoephedrine; keeping the products behind the counter or in a locked case; and requiring registration with the U.S. Attorney General.

The Independence County lawsuit targets drug manufacturers.

Steven Robins, an executive at Pfizer, the maker of Sudafed, stated that about 140 million Americans a year use products containing pseudoephedrine to treat colds and sinus or allergy sufferings.

Robins states that the proposal of making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug minimizes access for consumers who have legitimate reasons to take the product.

But, he allows, "clearly, a lot of people who are not abusing the drug are paying for the actions of those people who are using it for meth,"

He says that it is his understanding from the Drug Enforcement Agency's statistics show that 90 percent of methamphetamine sold and used in the U.S. comes from large labs that use bulk ephedrine or pseudoephedrine that they get illicitly and illegally.

Pfizer, he said, has always believed that reporting and registering was a legitimate way to go. The company spent millions of dollars to create a pseudoephedrine that could not be extracted for conversion into meth, but every time an enhancement was created to block it, meth cooks changed their process so they could extract it.

Finally, Pfizer abandoned the program and moved to phenylephrine, which cannot be used in the making of meth and can be bought safely and easily over the counter, with pseudoephedrine moved behind the counter where consumers can still get such products after consultation with a pharmacist.

It seems that accusing U.S. drug manufacturers of deliberately making products with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in them, knowing that they would be used to create meth, could be somewhat of a stretch.

U.S. Rep Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said that there are very few pseudoephedrine-manufacturing companies in the world, and that "clearly the Mexican border is where most of the pseudoephedrine is pouring in through."

The pseudoephedrine from Mexico is largely coming into that country in bulk shipments from other countries, including Hungary, China, and India.

And, at that strata, state efforts are relatively ineffectual, and require international cooperation.

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