Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The War on Lemsip

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The war on drugs is what Donald Rumsfeld would describe as 'multi-theatre warfare,' a battle being fought on numerous fronts. As well as the serious action in the Andes, Central Asia and our own crime-riven inner cities, there are a series of mini-skirmishes that should not be overlooked. On the Transform blog we've recently seen the war on hemp gummi-bears and the war on wheelie-bins, but it seems a new a new front could be opening in the endless struggle against the scourge of drugs:

be afraid
Health Minister Caroline Flint in response to a PQ from Mark Todd MP, said this:

There has been increasing concern from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) that pseudoephedrine and ephedrine can be extracted from over the counter (OTC) remedies relatively easily and used in the manufacture of methylamphetamine. Methylamphetamine was reclassified on 18 January 2007 by the Home Office as a Class A controlled drug, based on the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
Although the prevalence of misuse of methylamphetamine is believed to be currently low in the United Kingdom, ACPO are receiving increasing levels of intelligence about the prevalence of methylamphetamine. If methylamphetamine did secure a hold in the UK, the consequences would undoubtedly be very serious. The international experience shows that misuse can spread rapidly when certain conditions prevail and the advice of UK enforcement authorities is that most of these conditions now prevail in the UK.
In January 2007 the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) considered the evidence of a risk to public health from OTC availability of the precursors to methylamphetamine, pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. The evidence to date centres on advice from ACPO and SOCA that the availability of methylamphetamine is increasing, evidenced in part by the increase in the number of illicit laboratories manufacturing methylamphetamine found by the police in the UK. The police have identified in specific cases that multiple packs of particular pharmacy pseudoephedrine containing products had been purchased and used in the illicit manufacture of methylamphetamine. They have also identified that, in part, these packs were obtained from numerous pharmacies to obtain adequate quantities for manufacturing.
The CHM recommended that changing the legal status of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine together with restricting the pack size was necessary to protect public health in the UK and that a consultation exercise should be conducted on these proposals. Ministers accepted this advice and a full public consultation exercise commenced on 7 March 2007 and can be accessed via the MHRA's website at: www.mhra.gov.uk
It's interesting that the media (including the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the BBC) have all jumped on this story today, when almost the exact same answer was given by Home Office minister Vernon Coaker to a question by Brian Iddon MP on March 21st, but went unreported.

Anyway, as ever there's a pointlessness about this latest proposed drug crack down, rather like the efforts of one over-enthusiastic US drug warrior who has been trying to restrict access to baking soda because it is used to make crack.

Ephedrine is widely available online , marketed as a stimulant (sometimes as a 'legal high' in the club/party scene) or 'diet aid' as it is apparently also a appetite suppressant. One of its isomers is pseudoephedrine which is a decongestant that appears in loads of cold remedies and decongestants like sudafed. Whilst cold remedies certainly have been used to manufacture meth, it is widely reported in the Russian federation for example, it is almost always going to be a small-scale user-led enterprise, with larger scale production avoiding all that messy syrup or annoying little sachets by using easily accessed bulk pharmaceutical supplies.

It is safe to say that restricting the availability of cold remedies will have absolutely no impact on meth production. None. Zero. Even if products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine are moved behind the counter in pharmacists, or even made available only on prescription it is impossible to see how this will stop evil meth manufacturers getting there hands on it. Initially, unless it is brought within the Misuse of Drugs Act, it will still be available on the grey market for import or via online sales - as are many 'drugs' that hover in the rather confused quasi legal world of 'lifestyle drugs' like steroids, viagra and so on.

Quite aside from this rather laughable attempt to be seen to be 'doing something' with regard the threat of methamphetamine, it needs to be acknowledged that even if, further down the road, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are totally prohibited this still wouldn't make any significant difference to meth production. There are already loads of so-called precursor chemicals used in drug production that are prohibited by UK and international law, but that has evidently has not prevented their use, as demonstrated by the increasing supply and availability of heroin, cocaine and ecstasy, all of which are now cheaper and more available than ever before.

If the demand is there and the profits are there (and they clearly are), the drug manufacturers will always find a way, such is the reality of supply and demand within the totally unregulated market for illegal drugs. If precursors become harder to get, the price rises until it becomes worth someones while to smuggle them as well - the illicit precursors market follows exactly the same market rules as the drugs, and efforts to prevent there use have failed in a similar fashion. If production becomes problematic in one location it can always shift to another more conducive one, since international crime syndicates, illicit production and illicit profits have few geographical constraints.

This latest pitiful effort to prevent the much feared, but yet to materialise, meth apocalypse also suggests that despite all the tough talking bluster back in January, the Home Office is perhaps less than 100% confident that reclassifying meth to Class A will have the desired deterrent effect (as discussed on the blog here).

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

On the underlying question of the threatened meth epidemic in Britain, and its non-appearance thus far: I wonder if part (a large part?) of the reason isn't simply the wide availability of cheap cocaine. Why bother with meth?

Bob said...

Cocaine is cheaper in the US than here, but meth is a massive problem there.

I think it has more to do with history, the UK market because it restricted legal amphetamines earlier than the US moved to illicit amphetamine production. The US clamped down on prescriptions later, when the new methods of making methamphetamine were more widely known.

One minor issue I'd take with your blog, did you mean baking power in relation to crack, or did you mean bi-carb?

Steve R said...

Bob - they are the same thing, no?

Bob said...

I can tell you're not a cook, baking powder is part bi-carb and part Cream of Tartar, if you tried to make crack with that it would go all strange (I imagine, I cant say I've ever made crack).

Steve R said...

aha - you are absolutely right:

http://chemistry.about.com/cs/foodchemistry/f/blbaking.htm

I will make the edit.