Friday, October 25, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Meth behind crime sprees

Two recent arrests by the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville Police Department remind us that Arkansas, like much of the nation, continues to struggle with the methamphetamine epidemic.

On Oct. 17, a 22-year-old man armed with a knife hijacked a school bus in Jacksonville and drove to Cabot pursued by police during a 20-minute, nine-mile journey that ended on Hwy. 5 in Cabot. Fortunately, none of the children were hurt. Nicholas John Miller, the alleged hijacker, pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of felony kidnapping, two felony counts of aggravated assault, felony fleeing, driving while under the influence and reckless driving.

Miller seemed paranoid when officers finally stopped the bus. He told them that people were following him. He was right about that, but the caravan of flashing lights he saw behind him belonged to the police as they tried to stop him from harming the kids. Miller’s bizarre behavior may have had something to do with his addiction to methamphetamines, at least according to his wife. (Sarah Campbell reports in The Leader today that the bus driver heard Miller tell his mother on the phone that he was high on meth.)

On Oct. 8, he was arrested for terroristic threatening and third-degree domestic battery after his wife confronted him about using meth. She told him to clean up if he wanted to see their son again. He grabbed her by the neck and choked her, according to the police report.

A few miles away, when Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies arrived at Jason Woodring’s rural Jacksonville home on John Shelton Road on Oct. 11, they found an active meth lab. He hasn’t been charged yet with manufacturing the highly addictive drug because he’s facing far more serious accusations of deliberately sabotaging the electric grid in Lonoke County in four separate attacks in six weeks.

If the allegations are true, Woodring could have been motivated by paranoia brought on by meth addiction. When he appeared in court Oct. 15, he asked his lawyer if the drinking water at the defendant’s table was poisoned.

Both men can expect lengthy prison sentences if convicted, but banning a key substance used in methamphetamine could reduce crime here and across the country.

Meth addicts often purchase pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter decongestant in cold and allergy medicine, to make their own drugs. Mississippi and Oregon are the only states in the country that now require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, saving both states hundreds of millions of dollars every decade and dramatically lowering expenses related to cleaning up toxic meth labs, treating meth addicts and their children for chemical burns and reducing ordinary crime like burglaries and car thefts that addicts often commit.

A recent article in Mother Jones Magazine, “Merchants of Meth: How Big Pharma Keeps the Cooks in Business” by Jonah Engle, chronicles the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to keep pseudoephedrine an over-the-counter product to the peril of our communities.

Arkansas is among 25 states that have considered requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, but have resisted doing so because of the well-financed influence of the drug industry. Meth addiction can’t be brought under control until lawmakers do all they can to make it inconvenient for addicts to get their key ingredients.

State legislators should follow the lead of Mississippi and Oregon and help prevent addiction, reduce crime and save the state and local law-enforcement agencies millions when meth use subsides. Jobs go begging because too many people abuse drugs when they should be working.

This is an epidemic that cannot be ignored any longer. The victims of meth-related crimes have had enough: Start eradicating the problem by banning key ingredients from store shelves.