Drawing the wrong conclusion VII — pseudosuccessful drug war edition

In December I wrote about lawmakers’ desire to restrict pseudoephedrine sales even more in a futile attempt to fight production of methamphetamine. I showed the history of meth production and how “the key ingredient to making meth depends on the policies in effect.” I discussed how legislative attempts to restrict sales of pseudoephedrine had two main effects: (1) block cold sufferers from access to an effective ingredient, and (2) move meth-heads into much more dangerous methods of making the stuff, methods that require less pseudoephedrine (or that don’t use any at all) and that pose dangers not only to the meth-makers but also others.

I also reminded readers that new laws making it harder for the tiny population of meth-heads as well as the vast majority of cold and allergy sufferers in North Carolina to obtain pseudoephedrine had just gone into operation in 2012, and here lawmakers are talking about doing some more. Well, today’s news brings the results of those laws (emphasis added):

The number of methamphetamine lab busts in North Carolina has nearly doubled in the last two years, largely because of a new method of making the highly addictive drug in two-liter plastic bottles, state Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday.

Agents with the State Bureau of Investigation shut down 460 meth labs last year, compared with 344 in 2011 and 235 in 2010.

In addition, more children are being affected by abuse of the drug, Cooper said. Last year, law officers removed 120 children from homes in the state where meth labs were found, up from 82 the year before. …

In 2011, the new methods of cooking the drug accounted for about half the state’s meth lab busts. Last year, one-pot labs accounted for 73 percent of meth lab busts in North Carolina, Cooper said Tuesday.

So … the unintended consequences of the new restrictions are more evident now, right? Users have increasingly resorted to the low-pseudoephedrine, even-higher-risk methods such that they account for three out of four lab busts — and lab busts have doubled in just two years. More labs, higher risks, children being increasingly affected, and then there are all those cold sufferers going without effective over-the-counter treatment for these non-improvements.

Ah, but the next paragraphs:

It could have been worse. A year ago, North Carolina pharmacies began using an electronic tracking system called the National Precursor Log Exchange to help block illegal sales of pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth that’s often found in medications such as Sudafed.

Cooper said electronic tracking of pseudoephedrine purchases prevented an increase in larger labs and helped block 54,000 illegal purchases that could have been used to make an additional 277 pounds of meth.

Notice, of course, that we’re still assuming that those 54,000 blocked purchases were of people trying to get meth ingredients rather than cold treatments. It “could have been used to make an additional 277 pounds of meth” — or it could have been used to make 54,000 cold sufferers feel some relief of cold symptoms.

Previous entries in “Drawing the Wrong Conclusion”: I, II, III, IV, V, and VI.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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