Thanks to Big Pharma, Anyone can 'Break Bad'


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This one will hit close to home, Kentuckians: an investigative report has revealed that the most popular form of meth manufacture (derivation from pseudoephedrine, a common decongestant) known as shake-and-bake or 'one pot' has a friend in the form of the massive pharmaceutical companies.

Ever since Mexican superlabs and biker gangs around Oregon began to traffic in crystal meth in the '80s and '90s, the dangerous drug has rampaged across the states. The shake-and-bake method, a relatively new phenomenon, increased meth labs by 63 percent nationwide and tripled their presence in Kentucky.

Because of the household nature of shake-and-bake meth cooking, the ingredients are available for purchase at most groceries and pharmacies. Law enforcers expect to be targeting strung-out junkies, while their biggest opponents have turned out to be pharmaceutical lobbies and politically-connected drug companies. In Kentucky, records have been shattered by lobbyists willing to pay top dollar to keep pseudoephedrine widely available.

Jackie Steele, a commonwealth's attorney in southeastern Kentucky, expressed great frustration "to see how an industry and corporate dollars affect commonsense legislation."

The battle is hardly limited to Appalachia and the south, even if those areas seem worst hit by the scourge of meth. Rob Bovett, formerly a lawyer for the drug task force of Lincoln County in Oregon, battled drug lobbies in 2000 when he sought to increase regulations on the sale of pseudoephedrine. Over a dozen lobbyists had to be consulted and agreed with before anything would be done about the chemical's availability.

Eventually, around 2003 Bovett tried again to move pseudoephedrine behind the counter. "We got our asses kicked," he said of the attempt. When Oklahoma passed such legislation on the heels of the murder of a state trooper by a tweaked meth cook who stole his pistol, Oregon quickly followed in adopting similar legislation. Yet the cooks adapted as well, and collected junkies into "smurfing teams" that would go buy the Sudafed they needed to keep cooking.

Bovett's response was to then ask the Oregon legislature for pseudoephedrine to be returned to prescription status. That request opened the lobbying floodgates, but fortunately a clever presentation in front of the house vote about the ease of procuring a mass quantity of Sudafed convinced lawmakers to make it a prescription drug once again. In 2006 the bill became law, and the quantity of meth labs discovered in Oregon plummeted by 96 percent.

Read the full expose at MotherJones here, which contains some terrifying data charts and scary anecdotes.