The manufacture of methamphetamine and the seizure of illegal “meth” labs have dropped significantly in Arkansas, thanks to a series of laws enacted by Congress and the Arkansas Legislature. Methamphetamine is an illegal and highly addictive stimulant drug.

The manufacture and use of meth became a major health and environmental problem about 15 years ago in Arkansas and across the country. The U.S. Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005. It requires pharmacies and other stores selling medications to keep logs of all purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine and limits the amount of these products that a person can buy per day.

Pseudoephedrine, one of the ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine, is used legally as a decongestant in medicines for colds, allergies or sinus infections. It is sold as an ingredient in numerous medications, both in generic form and name brands like Chlor Trimeton, Contac, Drixoral, Nasofed, Sudafed. Suphedrin, Triaminic and others.

The Arkansas General Assembly reacted to the meth abuse epidemic by passing Act 256 in 2005. It required tablet forms of certain cold medications, including those containing pseudoephedrine, to be sold from behind the pharmacy counter. Two years later, they passed Act 508 creating a database so law enforcement could track how much pseudoephedrine was sold in each pharmacy. In 2011 they passed Act 588 requiring pharmacists to make a “professional determination” on whether a person without a prescription needed pseudoephedrine, based on his or her symptoms and medical history. State law does not restrict the over-the-counter use of pseudoephedrine products for legitimate medical use.

Prior to enactment of the 2011 law, there were nearly a million purchases of pseudoephedrine in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC). One year after the law was enacted, that number dropped to 191,926. Last year, there were only 120,435 pseudoephedrine purchases. The ACIC reported only 481 arrests for selling or manufacturing meth in 2014. The Drug Enforcement Administration no longer tracks reports from the states on meth-lab seizures.

Restrictions benefit everyone

In addition to health problems, meth use has caused destruction of property when meth labs blew up and caused fires in homes, motel rooms and other structures. Oftentimes the structures were condemned. The fires also resulted in injuries, burns and even deaths.

Fewer meth labs also mean less damage to Arkansas’ environment. The poisonous and flammable ingredients used to make meth were often dumped in isolated places in rural Arkansas, including national forests and state parks.

The Arkansas Children’s Hospital burn unit reports fewer children being admitted with burns from meth lab explosions.

Usage continues

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), use of meth and arrests for meth possession have not decreased in Arkansas. A much purer and more potent form of the drug is being manufactured at huge labs in Mexico and South America. These labs have no restrictions on bulk methamphetamine purchases. The result is meth that is both cheaper and far more potent, thus more addictive.

Nationwide, meth use is decreasing. In 2006, 731,00 (0.03 % of the population) reported use of meth in the past month. In 2012, 440,000 people (0.02 %) reported using it in the past month. Overall, 1.2 million Americans reported using meth in the past year. The 2012 Monitoring the Future survey of adolescent drug use and attitudes reported that about 1 percent of 8th, 10th and 12th graders had used meth in the past year.

Meth-related episodes in hospital emergency departments (ED) are also in decline. Meth accounted for 132,576 ED visits in 2004, declining to 103,000 ED visits in 2011. Nationwide admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities for methamphetamine abuse dropped from 8.1 percent of all admissions in 2005 to 5.6 percent in 2011. Fifty-three percent of the admissions were male and about two-thirds were non-Hispanic whites.

Long-term effects of meth abuse

Even in small doses, meth can increase wakefulness and physical activity, and decrease appetite. It can cause heart problems including rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat and increased blood pressure. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions can occur with overdose. If not treated immediately convulsions can cause death, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

Chronic abuse of meth can cause users to develop difficulty feeling any pleasure other than that provided by the drug, further fueling abuse. Chronic users can have significant anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances and violent behavior. Usage increases the risk of stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Psychosis can also result and cause paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions. Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after a person has quit using meth.

Long-term users also suffer weight loss, severe tooth decay and tooth loss, and skin sores. Dental problems result from a combination of poor nutrition and dental hygiene as well as dry mouth and teeth grinding caused by the drug. Skin sores are the result of picking and scratching the skin to get rid of insects imagined to be crawling under the skin.

Withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, fatigue and an intense craving for the drug. Stress has been shown to cause spontaneous recurrence of meth psychosis in former users.