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Oregon got some press in a recent New York Times articleabout a growing methamphetamine problem in Southern and Midwestern states and their efforts to stanch it.
According to the article, a laundry list of states -- Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee and "several other(s)" -- are trying to reverse the growth of home-grown producers and Oregon might be a model.
Since 2006, Oregon has required a prescription for drugs that contain pseudoephedrine, like Sudafed. For those who don’t know the intricacies of meth production, pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the drug and can be leeched out of some over-the-counter medications.
The thinking goes that if you put drugs like Sudafed behind a prescription barrier, meth manufactures will have to close shop. The New York Times talks to one of Oregon’s very own, Lincoln County District Attorney Rob Bovett, about the state’s results.
Bovett tells the Times that the law is working well in Oregon. Specifically, he says, the rate of meth lab incidents has tumbled 96 percent since the law took effect while the number of meth-related arrests has shrunk by 32 percent.
Those are not numbers to ignore -- provided they’re accurate. We gave Bovett a call and he pointed us in the direction of the data he used.
First up was the claim that meth lab incidents are down by 96 percent.
For this statistic, Bovett gathered numbers from the Department of Justice’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. The program keeps tabs on the number of "meth lab incidents." These incidents, Bovett said, include three scenarios: full labs (whether operating or not), partial labs (a lab that’s not set up) and dump sites (discarded labs).
Bovett gathered month-by-month data from the organization going as far back as January 2003. The information is now in a handy tableon the Oregon Alliance for Drug Endangered Children website.
We looked over the data and calculated an average number of incidents per month in 2003 (roughly 40) and then did the same for 2010 (roughly 1.5). These numbers do, indeed, show a 96 percent drop in the number of meth lab incidents per month.
The New York Times article specifically talks about the drop occurring between now and 2006, so why did we look at numbers in 2003? Well, between the end of 2004 and the middle of 2006, Oregon instituted progressively more onerous requirements for the purchasing of products containing pseudoephedrine. First, the state put them behind the counter (November 2004 through May 2005) and then we started requiring an ID and logging the number of purchases (June 2005 through June 2006).
If you look at the numbers, these two moves actually reduced the number of meth lab incidents by 77 percent on their own. It might be easy, then, to assume that the prescription-only policy reduced incidents by only the remaining 19 percent. But, the 96 percent reduction has been sustained for more than four years now.
We feel comfortable giving the prescription-only law the credit here. So on the first statistic, Bovett is right.
Now for the claim that the number of meth-related arrests has shrunk by 32 percent.
For this statistic, Bovett relied on a data setpublished by Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. To avoid problems with changing populations, we went with the number of arrests per 100,000 Oregonians. This is typically how crime rates are assessed.
The prescription-only law went into effect in November 2006. We reached a peak of meth-related arrests in March 2007 when there were 25.3 arrests per 100,000. The number reached its lowest point since then in December 2009, 14.2 arrests for every 100,000. It’s seen a slight bump since that low and, as of February 2011, sits at 17 arrests per 100,000.
Compare that peak of 25.3 to our current 17, and you do, indeed, find a drop of roughly 33 percent. Again, Bovett appears to be right. (It’s worth noting here -- though it doesn’t affect the rating of these claims -- that overall drug-related arrests per 100,000 have declined by nearly 11 percent over the same time frame.)
We could be harder on Bovett’s number here and use the November 2006 figure of 23.7 per 100,000, which would cut into the decline somewhat, leaving it at 28 percent.
That said, it seems reasonable that it might take some time for the new law to really take hold and for current manufacturers to run out of whatever back-stock they might have held at the time. Even so, 28 percent is still a pretty nice drop and not all that far from 32 percent.
For our rating, Bovett’s statistics hold up to scrutiny: Since our prescription-only law went into effect, we have, in fact, seen meth lab incidents decline by 96 percent and meth-related arrests dip by about 32 percent. We rate Bovett’s claim True.
Criminal Justice Commission, Oregon Drug Arrests Graphs, March 31, 2011
Oregon Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, Oregon Meth Lab Incident Statistics, March 31, 2011
Interview with Lincoln County District Attorney Rob Bovett, April 1, 2011
The New York Times, "States Battling Meth Makers Look to Limit Ingredients," March 28, 2011
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