Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Editorial

AB 1455: the wrong remedy for meth labs

A California database designed to track purchases of cold and allergy medicine would be unlikely to achieve enough benefits to make its downsides worthwhile.

December 02, 2009

Each time a proposal comes along that would diminish our privacy to further a social good, society's job is to ask whether that good outweighs another stricture on our lives. A proposed state database to track our purchases of various cold and allergy remedies is designed to cut down on illegal methamphetamine manufacture -- a well-intentioned attempt to fight back at a drug that has become a law enforcement nightmare. But this legislation is unlikely to achieve enough benefits to make its downsides worthwhile.

Assembly Bill 1455 would require people to sign an electronic log and provide identification each time they want to buy pseudoephedrine or any of a host of other medications that can be used to manufacture methamphetamine. Stores would receive instant alerts on customers who already had purchased their legal limit and would be prohibited from selling them more.

Pseudoephedrine, better known by the brand name Sudafed, already is kept behind the drugstore counter in California, though no prescription is required for it. Pharmacists are supposed to keep a written record of transactions, including buyers' identifying information, but not all of them do. And meth lab operators have skirted the law by sending crews of buyers to different stores to stock up on the medications.

AB 1455 would make things harder for clandestine meth manufacturers, but just as they have with the current law, many would find ways around this one. They might recruit a larger network of buyers or buy from contacts in areas where laws are looser. Worse, they might expand into identity theft so that each buyer could make more purchases. It's also unclear to what extent law enforcement would track the purchases of law-abiding citizens and whether and when they might find themselves being questioned about their pseudoephedrine consumption. That's not a trivial worry: An Indiana woman was arrested in July after she legitimately bought two different cold medications within a week for her husband and adult daughter. The potential for hacking of the database is another concern.

The number of meth superlabs -- dangerous operations that use barrels of toxic materials -- has fallen dramatically nationwide in recent years. Most of the illegal methamphetamine sold in this country is manufactured in Mexico. AB 1455 targets the "one-pot" operations in which people make small amounts of the highly addictive drug for personal consumption or sale to a few others. Tighter restrictions might somewhat reduce the number of small operators, but would not significantly reduce methamphetamine use. The potential downsides for law-abiding consumers outweigh the theoretical advantages of the proposed database.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|