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Recipe Regulation

Lawmakers' war on drugs targets cold medicines


Casey Wright races through another January night that blends into another day unpunctuated by the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. The mom, the artist, the self-employed businesswoman keeps moving, keeps working, keeps buzzing through a 30-some hour stretch of hyper-productivity. Wright can't sleep. Her unending workload allows no leisure; still her energy surges courtesy of a concentrated dash of crystal grains she smoked hours before. The inhaled rush helps her tackle one project after another.

Idaho lawmakers want to put the reasons for Wright's rush to rest, but Wright says the performance-enhancing recipe Representatives want to regulate keeps her in business.

"I know a couple of college students who use [crystal meth] to stay awake and get through, especially if they work a couple of jobs," she says.

Rep. Robert Ring (R-Caldwell 10) speaks of babies who carry trace amounts of methamphetamine in their veins when he pitches one of the first bills lawmakers approved for print this session. Ring speaks of kids exposed to second-hand smoke that hits their cells, coats the walls of their homes and contaminates toys when their parents cook batches of methamphetamine, blending ingredients most people would never ingest unless they had a cold. Drain cleaner, fertilizer a long list of toxic compounds and cold medicine mix and mingle to create the rush that keeps Wright buzzing in a busy high.

Ring's voice drops just a bit and assumes the tone of a concerned parent when he talks of dirty labs and home interiors coated by a brew of toxic residue.

His proposal would limit access to pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine and could cut the supply of what users call meth, poor man's cocaine, dope, tweak, gack, college crack, "a little pick-me-up," medicine, the bathtub brew that puts coffee to shame.

The legislation would change the ways pharmacists hawk cold meds and put your sniffles and sneezes on the record. The proposal limits the amount of over the counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine you could buy and requires pharmacies to track who buys the stuff, how much they buy and when they buy it. Ring says he hopes his legislation impacts the kids who live in in-house methamphetamine labs and taxpayers who boot the bill for meth-related offences.

Ring figures that if the state could keep pseudoephedrine out of cooks' hands, speed recipes would go uncooked. No ingredients equals no cooking, which equals no labs, toxic fumes and residue-coated homes, and no noxious molecules floating through children's veins. No meth to burn equals no supply--or at least a crippled supply. Ring aims for at least a dent, like the one similar legislation put in Oklahoma's meth supply. A dent is better than nothing, he says.

Ring's plan to foil meth production follows Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's repeated calls to get Idaho clean and earned the stamp of HB 001. At press time, the bill was on the way to the House Judiciary Rules and Administration Committee with the backing of co-sponsors, Reps. Richard Wills (R-Glenns Ferry 22), John Rusche (R-Lewiston 7) and Janet Mitchell (D-Lewiston 7). Methamphetamine users even applaud their efforts but some say lawmakers might be legislating the wrong end of the supply and demand equation. Kill the demand and you'll kill the supply, they say. Understand the demand and you'll see which equation or legislative injection would stop a problem Idaho's highest officials put at the top of their repair list.

Lawmakers, meet the demand:

The morning glow intensified and Wright keeps working. Her hands move quickly, sketching a blueprint for a commissioned glass etching. She focuses for hours and multi-tasks: Breakfast sizzles; outstretched arms greet an awaking little boy; attention moves to laundry then housework, brainstorming takes over and market strategies for her interior design business fills her head; boxes from a recent move empty; PR tricks dash from idea to execution; ideas spill on paper and steps retrace a worn path between office and kitchen. Rows of neighbors scrape layers of ice crystals from their windshields, start their engines and join the daily race. Wright's engine doesn't stop and she keeps racing at full speed, fueled by a questionable concoction of cold medicine and ingredients Wright might find under her kitchen sink or in a nearby garage. She likes to imagine there's only a little cold medicine in what she calls a self-prescription

"I know if I had health insurance, I wouldn't use it," she says.

Her meth-induced euphoria helps ward off bouts of depression. The extra energy becomse an added bonus for the mother with a passion for capturing anything spiritual or religious in art. But now the mom who was introduced to the stuff during a stressful move is hooked, and city grants once earmarked for a public detox center never manifested into a place Wright could go for help.

Reproductions of the Table Rock cross cover the walls of her home and compete with photographs of her kids. Wright plans to spend more time on her art, but she carries a full plate, works long hours building her business and working at part-time jobs for paltry wages. She needs a boost, she says. Airplane pilots get their boost via prescription speed she notes, citing several network news reports lauding the productive power of Provigil, a stimulant laboratory rats with an addiction to cocaine took a liking to. Physicians use the drug to treat narcolepsy and fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis but reports say some doctors now dole out doses to the jet-lagged business travelers, college students and airplane pilots. But Wright doesn't have a doctor, a place to detox, depression meds or enough cash in the bank to slow down.

Good jobs, good pay and medical access are key to putting any sort of dent in her problem.

"Figure out how to house and feed people," she would tell lawmakers. That's how they'll make their dent, she says.

* Casey Wright's name was changed to protect her identity.