A little over a year ago I wrote about Missouri's tightening pseudoephedrine restrictions and predicted that they would cause all sorts of negative unintended consequences without significantly curbing the production of use of methamphetamine. I was right! Reduced access to pseudoephedrine has caused meth users to move to a new meth production method called shake-and-bake that is much more dangerous.

So-called shake-and-bake meth is produced by combining raw, unstable ingredients in a 2-liter soda bottle. But if the person mixing the noxious brew makes the slightest error, such as removing the cap too soon or accidentally perforating the plastic, the concoction can explode, searing flesh and causing permanent disfigurement, blindness or even death.

An Associated Press survey of key hospitals in the nation's most active meth states showed that up to a third of patients in some burn units were hurt while making meth, and most were uninsured. The average treatment costs $6,000 per day. And the average meth patient's hospital stay costs $130,000 - 60 percent more than other burn patients, according to a study by doctors at a burn center in Kalamazoo, Mich. ...

Larger meth labs have been bursting into flame for years, usually in basements, backyard sheds or other private spaces. But those were fires that people could usually escape. Using the shake-and-bake method, drugmakers typically hold the flammable concoction up close, causing burns from the waist to the face.

Why is this more dangerous method so popular?

Also known as the "one-pot" approach, the method is popular because it uses less pseudoephedrine - a common component in some cold and allergy pills. It also yields meth in minutes rather than hours, and it's cheaper and easier to conceal. Meth cooks can carry all the ingredients in a backpack and mix them in a bathroom stall or the seat of a car.

And the effect on taxpayers? Not only do we need prescriptions for cold medicine, but we're footing the bill for all these burn victims.

Burn experts agree the annual cost to taxpayers is well into the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars, although it is impossible to determine a more accurate number because so many meth users lie about the cause of their burns.

Maybe it's time to ease up on the pseudoephedrine restrictions.

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