Halting Meth Abuse Technology Helps Arkansas Fight Meth Manufacturers Illustration by Tom McKeith

Whatever your opinion is on the so-called war on drugs, it's hard to ignore the devastating effects addictive drugs have on abusers. One of the most popular and destructive drugs abused today is methamphetamine, a.k.a. "meth." The explanation for high levels of meth usage is the same for its severe consequences -- the toxic ingredients to make it are readily available at grocery and drugstores.

Meth is a potent stimulant and a sympathomimetic drug (i.e., it simulates the sympathetic nervous system) that increases users' alertness and mimics the effects of naturally occurring hormones, like adrenaline and dopamine. But there are side effects, like "hyperthermia, convulsions, brain aneurysms, strokes, arrhythmia, severe dental problems, and -- after prolonged use -- collapse of the cardiovascular system," according to a National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) July 2008 report, The Relationship between State Methamphetamine Precursor Laws and Trends in Small Toxic Lab (STL) Seizures. Other side effects include a ghastly condition nicknamed "meth mouth," in which the teeth and gums rapidly decay. Long-term users also can be startlingly gaunt and prone to extreme violence and promiscuity.

Developed from ephedrine in Germany in 1887, meth was used to treat many ailments, such as narcolepsy, asthma and obesity. It's a toxic cocktail of precursors, many of which were available until recently on store shelves. The most common precursors are ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the latter an active ingredient in cold remedies like Sudafed.

To combat meth production, most states passed legislation moving products containing these precursors off the shelf. In most cases, customers now get the medication by asking a pharmacist, who dispenses the product in limited quantities. Still, meth producers avoid this restriction by visiting multiple pharmacies -- meaning meth production is only temporarily slowed.

However, some states, like Arkansas, deployed electronic logbooks to keep better tabs on who is buying precursors and in what quantities. These logbooks electronically link pharmacies in order to halt purchasing of small amounts of precursors from several retailers.

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Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.