Citizens beware: Our government is trying to save us from ourselves again.
Clovis and Portales leaders, spurred by recommendations from the district attorney’s office, are considering ordinances restricting the purchase of cold and allergy medicines. Criminal prosecutor Matt Chandler wants powder and hard-pill form pseudoephedrine products placed behind store counters; he wants sales of those products limited to 100 tablets at a time; and he wants those who buy the products to provide their name, date of birth and current address to the retailer, who will then pass it along to law enforcement on request.
The problem is that pseudoephedrine, contained in many cold and allergy medicines, is used in the production of methamphetamine. And when people manufacture this illegal and potentially dangerous drug, they sometimes start fires.
One solution, according to Chandler and many law-enforcement supporters, is to restrict the availability of the ingredients needed to manufacture meth.
Federal lawmakers, including New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, are pushing the same agenda in Washington.
The sky is falling, our leaders are warning, but don’t worry … the government will save us.
We think there is plenty of reason to worry — not so much about illegal drugs, but the means by which government is trying to save us from them.
We won’t argue that many illegal drugs, including methamphetamine, can destroy the lives of those who use them and, sometimes, the lives of innocent victims. We can agree also that accidental fires are bad.
But will tracking the buying habits of cold sufferers prevent either of those things?
Sure, it’s possible a meth maker will drive all over town, buy three packages of cold medicine at each stop, give the store clerk his correct name and address every time, then be stopped by alert law officers who regularly spend their time checking the retailers’ logs.
Sure, it’s possible a potential meth maker will be so discouraged by these legal roadblocks that he will turn from a life of crime and start using his kitchen to make chocolate cakes or, better yet, healthy vegetable stews.
But it’s also possible a store clerk will encounter an 80-year-old sick person who happens to mention she lives alone, note her address from the information log she filled out to buy the medicine, then follow her home, bonk her on the head and steal everything she owns.
A lot of things are possible.
As columnist Steve Chapman reported last Sunday, methamphetamine is getting a lot of attention these days as the latest most-dangerous drug plaguing our nation. But statistics are not backing up the hype.
As Chapman noted, the most recent statistics available from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show meth use did not increase from 2002 to 2003. And the addiction rate — about 1 in 17 who’ve tried it keep using it long term, according to SAMHSA — is well below the addiction rate of alcohol (one in 12) and tobacco (one in three).
Did someone solve the issues related to drunken driving and not tell us and now they’ve turned their attention to far less-common problems?
Yes, methamphetamine use can lead to serious health issues, but no amount of government intervention will ever prevent us from hurting ourselves if we’re intent on that path.
Yes, meth use can lead to violent outbursts against others. But we already have laws on the books that are designed to prevent people from hurting other people. Laws intended to prevent people from potentially hurting other people could ultimately prevent us from purchasing hunting rifles, baseball bats and motor vehicles.
Granted, the ordinance the district attorney’s office is pushing may prevent a small number of people from making methamphetamine at home (police suspect there were four of them in Curry County last year, based on the number of arrests). But it certainly won’t prevent the use of methamphetamine — that’s already been proven in Oklahoma and other states where similar laws have been enacted.
Mostly, the proposed ordinance will force hardships on retail outlets where cold and allergy medicines are sold, force inconveniences on those suffering from illness, and potentially limit the number of stores selling the products, inevitably driving up the prices and further inconveniencing the shopper.
The only thing the proposed ordinance guarantees is that government will have a little more control of our lives and will be more likely to know which of its citizens suffer from colds and allergies. Somehow, we don’t think that’s going to help curb the unwanted effects of illegal drug use.
We hope Clovis and Portales officials will recognize this proposed ordinance as political grandstanding and turn it down.