Saturday, February 03, 2007

Meth Users Turning To Urine To Get High

When Wright County deputies opened up a smelly rented storage locker last June, they had no idea what they would find. Inside a man had stored 50 gallon jugs of urine. "The officers that responded looked at it and said, 'yeah, that's odd,'" said Wright County Narcotics Sgt. Becky Howell. The deputies gave the go-ahead to the owners to throw out the urine. When they did, they got sick. A week and half later, that report hit Howell's desk. "I said, 'Oh my gosh, this is a meth lab, this is a urine extraction lab,'" Howell said. It's a new way to get meth. Some people drink the meth-tainted urine outright to get high. Others filter the drug back out through the cooking process. "I'm not 100 percent sure what this guy was doing," said Howell. "Five years ago, I probably would have been surprised at that. But now, knowing and understanding methamphetamine and an addict's addiction to it, it doesn't surprise me." It did surprise Jeremy Rezac. He's a recovering meth addict who used to cook up to $20,000 worth of the drug a day. Back then, he said it was easy to buy pseudoephedrine or ephedrine in the form of pills. "A couple hundred bucks, send junkies, out to get your pills for you. A couple of hours later you were ready to rock and roll," he said.But all of that changed in the summer of 2005 when lawmakers passed one of the toughest meth laws in the country. It added 10 new BCA agents, dealt out new penalties for child endangerment and placed limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine one person can buy in a month. It also put those pills behind the pharmacy counter and made everyone sign a log. The state said that brought homegrown meth labs down by 70 percent. "You can't find that product no more. You can't find it on the streets no more. The government did what they needed to do," said Rezac. "It takes a lot of time and money and I think the average meth user, meth cook, they don't want the hassle anymore." Howell said there's still a group that does deal with the hassle and has quickly found a way around the law. She's seen addicts travel in packs to different drug stores because they know the pharmacies do not communicate with each other. Of the big retail chains, only Walgreens and Target keep an internal database to track pseudoephedrine pills purchases within their own stores. None of chains share with their competitors. "They know they can still go shopping for pills and go to the various stores and obtain their packages. They can sign the ledger, prove their ID and then they can move to the next store," Howell said.
She said her deputies don't have the time or resources to cross-check all of the logs to match the addict with their purchase. State Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, wants that loophole to change. "The meth law that was passed in 2005 was tremendous," she said, "but now that drug scene has morphed. It's changing. Meth is morphing and changing. We need to adapt and be quick on our feet also." She's considering legislation that would track pseudoephedrine and prescription drug purchases across different stores. Pharmacies would enter a patient's personal information and their purchase into a central database. Only officers with a search warrant would have access to that information. Rosen would also like more money for treatment programs. "I feel we are sitting back on our heels a little bit," Rosen said. "We are saying OK, we did our job, our job has been done. We passed that great bill and now we're good." Rosen plans on working closely with the state's new meth coordinator. In December Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Chuck Noerenberg to this newly-created position. His job is to figure out where the state stands on meth and where Minnesota has to go. "We have the foundation in place but we still have a very serious problem in Minnesota," he said, pointing out that 80 percent of meth in the state is imported from Mexico. His initial priorities will focus on a new child-endangerment protocol and assessing what types of treatment work best. "Meth treatment is longer and more complex than other chemical dependency treatment and that's something we need to have a better understanding before we sink a lot of money into it," Noerenberg said. While the state has made great progress in combating homegrown meth, no one in government, law enforcement or even on the streets expects the drug to go away soon. "We still have a ways to go," said Howell.