By DALE MCFEATTERS, Scripps Howard News Service
It is no secret that drug abuse affects more than just the user -- friends, family, employers, the people the addicts rip off to support their habit.
But methamphetamine use is perhaps unique in that its negative side effects extend far beyond the user to innocent strangers.
For hard-core users, meth addiction, with its brutal physical ravages, is almost like a backward trip through evolution. But even after the addict moves on, the residue from meth use or, worse, its manufacture lingers silently on with toxic levels of contamination, according to Don Wade of Scripps Howard News Service.
A meth contaminated residence or car can cause severe sinus headaches, nosebleeds, trouble breathing, dry mouth and mouth sores, particularly in children. The Drug Enforcement Administration maintains a registry of more than 21,000 addresses that were once meth labs, but at the current state of public awareness this is not a check the typical homebuyer thinks of making.
Cleaning a 2,000-square-foot house can cost $3,000 to $4,000 -- and more. One reason: The level of "toxicological significance" can be as small as a grain of sand in the palm of the hand.
Twenty-three states have specified meth disclosure laws for houses; 12 for apartment rentals; seven for vehicles; and six for renting a hotel room. Meth contamination then is still very much a matter of buyer beware.
The appeal of meth is an intense but short-lived euphoria. For "one pot" or "shake-and-bake" meth chefs, all it takes is the popular cold medicine pseudoephedrine, a 2-liter soda bottle and a few readily available chemicals. The process, however, can be particularly combustible and result in explosions, fires and gruesome burn injuries, with resulting treatment of uninsured drug-makers often charged to the taxpayer.
Now meth production has become a big enough business to attract the Mexican drug cartels with their economies of scale and relatively safe havens for production in Mexico. The DEA estimates 80 percent of meth destined for American streets comes from Mexico.
Attempts to crack down on meth through the law have been scatter shot. A federal law requires that pseudoephedrine, which has legitimate uses for asthma and cold sufferers, be kept behind the counter and that all purchases be recorded. Only two states, Oregon and Mississippi, require a doctor's prescription. Laws in 16 other states were defeated, largely because of lobbying by the over-the-counter drug industry.
Barring a significant breakthrough in the culture, law enforcement or the manufacture of pseudoephedrine, University of Texas senior research scientist Jane Maxwell may unfortunately be right in her assessment: "It's never going away. It's whack-a-mole."