States Fight Meth Plague with Registries
By Elizabeth Wilkerson, Special to Stateline
Like sex offenders and tax dodgers, methamphetamine makers are now being listed on Internet registries in several states.
Tennessee brought the nation's first such registry online in 2005, and it now carries information on almost 400 convicted meth manufacturers, according to the state Bureau of Investigations. In Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) signed a law June 4 creating a convicted meth manufacturer registry .
The registries mark a new tool for states in combating the abuse and production of the illegal drug, also known as crystal meth, ice, glass and speed. It can cause stroke, paranoia, anxiety, delusions and violent behavior, as well as damage to blood vessels and skin abscesses in those who inject the drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Meth production labs are dangerous, smelly and toxic to children exposed to the fumes. Nearly all states already have laws limiting sales of cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth production.
At least four states — Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington and West Virginia — have bills pending that would create a meth-maker registry. An Oregon bill would require the state to alert residents — whether through an Internet registry or other means — when a convicted meth maker is released from prison into their area. And Montana has included meth makers in its sexual and violent offender registry since 2003, though it does not list them separately.
States differ on how they expect their registries to be used. In Tennessee, the registry is posted on a publicly accessible Web site and was established in response to complaints from residents and from landlords whose property had been damaged or destroyed by meth production, according to Jennifer Johnson, director of communication for the state's bureau of investigation.
State Sen. William R. Haine (D), the primary sponsor of Illinois' law, said his state's meth registry primarily will be used to help law enforcers by reducing the time and expense of searching through conviction records rather than to inform the public. The public isn't restricted from viewing the registry online, he said, "but as a practical matter it would be rather boring to the average person unless they're curious."
In Tennessee, the registry lists the offender's name and date of birth, the offense, the county in which it took place and the date of conviction. The Illinois registry will contain similar information, as would registries proposed in West Virginia and Oklahoma.
Lawmakers and law enforcers said the meth-maker registries differ from sex-offender registries, which states now rely on to post the whereabouts and often pictures of released sexual molesters. In Tennessee, the names and date of birth — but no picture or current address — of convicted meth manufacturers are sent directly to the registry by the courts, Johnson said, unlike sex offenders who are required to register in person and re-register regularly. Also, those on the meth registry can appeal to have their names removed from the list after seven years.
Johnson and Haine said the costs of running the meth registries were minimal. The start-up costs for the Tennessee registry were about $50,000, covered by a grant.
The number of seized meth labs nationwide decreased from 1999 to 2004, but rose in the Midwest, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said more meth labs were seized in Tennessee (786) and Illinois (923) than in California in 2005 (434).
Oklahoma estimated that an average meth case costs $350,000, including $54,000 to treat the meth user, $12,000 in child welfare services and $3,500 to decontaminate the area, which essentially is a hazardous waste site. For every pound of meth produced, about six pounds of toxic waste are left behind, said Blake Harrison, a senior policy specialist specializing in criminal justice for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Oklahoma was the first to restrict the availability of cold medications containing pseudoephedrine by moving certain non-prescription cold tablets such as Sinutab and Sudafed behind the pharmacy counter. Shoppers in Oklahoma are limited in how many packets of the medication containing pseudoephedrine they can buy at one time and must show ID and sign for the pills.