Lawmakers target meth production in Michigan

LANSING – Michigan lawmakers are cracking down on smurfs – not the little blue creatures, but people who buy cold medicine for drug ringleaders to use in methamphetamine production.

Legislation that criminalizes smurfing passed the state House 105-3 on Thursday. It’s part of a bipartisan package of seven bills that take aim at meth makers by creating a meth offender database and certain meth-related felony charges.

Lawmakers aim to curb the meth supply by making it harder to buy key ingredients: ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are most commonly found in over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

“You can make meth out of a wide variety of ingredients, but you can’t make it without pseudoephedrine,” bill sponsor Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, said. “So these are all aimed at keeping pseudoephedrine out of the hands of people who use it for the wrong reasons.”

Meth abuse is “a scourge in mainly rural areas” of Michigan, Kivela said.

“We’re fearful it’s going to start getting to the urban areas,” he said. “But it’s a big issue, both the addiction to the drug, and the manufacturing. Unlike other drugs, the manufacturing aspect is just as deadly and dangerous.”

While it is difficult to track illegal drug use in the state, Department of Community Health spokeswoman Angela Minicuci said the department has focused on heroin and prescription drug abuse in recent years because it sees more treatment cases for those drugs than for meth abuse. In budget year 2013, publicly-funded treatment programs had 13,376 heroin abuse cases, 8,570 other opiate cases and 22,787 alcohol cases. There were 896 people treated for meth that year, up from 820 in 2012 and 542 in 2011.

Michigan State Police data show there were 641 meth incidents in 2013, up from 553 and 525 in the previous two years, but down from 760 in 2010. Meth incidents include labs, dumpsite and manufacturing components cases.