Originally created 05/04/04

Officials discuss state's meth problem



COLUMBIA - The advances of the information age have created unintended consequences and a nightmare for law enforcement officials trying to stem the source of the illegal stimulant methamphetamine, South Carolina's attorney general said during a seminar Monday.

"You can get on the Internet and learn how to make it," Attorney General Henry McMaster said. "This is a substance that can be created fairly easy using common ingredients. You don't need some Colombian connection."

Officials say the number of clandestine meth labs is on the rise in South Carolina - from six busted in 2001 to more than 100 the next year.

In the face of a growing problem, Mr. McMaster convened the state's first "Meth Summit" on Monday to bring together more than 100 local, state and federal law enforcement officials, health experts and representatives from the retail industry.

"We thought the best idea was to come together and exchange ideas to find new ways to fight this menace," Mr. McMaster said.

Officials heard a long list of ingredients used to manufacturer meth, including phosphorus, battery acid and the primary ingredient, pseudoephedrine, and learned that the drug known commonly as "crank" isn't just for bikers and truckers anymore, infecting segments of low-income society.

In an effort to stop meth's illegal manufacture, some states have moved to limit the quantity of pseudoephedrine that can be purchased at one time, and retailers Wal-Mart, Eckerd, CVS Pharmacy and Rite- Aid have implemented voluntary measures.

Ben Thankachan, Wal-Mart's director of pharmacy professional services and government relations, says the company now limits pseudoephedrine purchases to three packages at a time, with each package containing no more than 3 grams.

"People aren't just going to be able to walk out with 10 boxes of pseudoephedrine," Mr. Thankachan said.

Officials also heard from Brian Holland, a reformed methamphetamine addict and former member of the "Ghost Riders" biker gang in Greenville.

He described a gripping addiction that deprives users of sleep and robs them of their concentration while planting seeds of paranoia.

"Crank is a totally different drug than cocaine could ever think of being," Mr. Holland said. "It rules you."

Mr. McMaster said that South Carolina's laws are adequate to fight methamphetamine sales and trafficking but that arming law enforcement and residents with information about the trade is essential.

"The important thing is knowing what to look for," he said. "An alert, informed citizenry is the answer to preventing this kind of criminal activity."

Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or stephen.gurr@augustachronicle.com.

Henry McMaster: State attorney general convened a "Meth Summit" to exchange ideas among officials about how to combat the rising use of methamphetamine across the state.