Union, Mo. — The meth problem in Union has gotten so bad that someone with a drug habit stole the light shades outside Marilyn Roark’s house. She got them back, but they were unusable.
“They had made them into bongs for the meth,” she said.
Another time, Bob Barton Jr., working as a carpenter on a homebuilding project, couldn’t find his boss. “I came around the house and there he was, with a lighter and aluminum foil and a straw, smoking meth,” Barton said.
In small Midwestern towns in the middle of meth country, folks are frustrated with the failure of many measures to control the scourge: putting cold medicines with the key methamphetamine ingredient pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters, requiring customers to show IDs, and limiting the number of cold pills someone can buy.
So some communities are taking bolder steps.
This week, Union became the second U.S. town to pass a law requiring prescriptions for cold and allergy medications like Sudafed, Claritin D and Aleve Cold & Sinus that contain pseudoephedrine. Washington, Mo., another meth-cursed town nearby, passed its own such law back in June.
They and other towns are trying to keep up with meth cooks who deftly exploit loopholes in the law or shift to the simpler new “shake-and-bake” method of production that requires only a small amount of the decongestant.
Union Mayor Mike Livengood said he would prefer a statewide prescription-only law. “But they don’t seem like they want to address it,” he said. “We figured at the grass-roots level we’d start at the bottom and work our way up, and maybe they’ll realize we’re serious about this issue.”
The new law’s critics include the Missouri Medical Association, Missouri Retailers Association and the Missouri Pharmacy Association. Many in the pharmacy industry say such laws will make it more difficult and expensive for those who are sick to get relief.
Some residents of Union, with a population of about 8,000, aren’t happy either.
“It’s going to be a hardship for people who use the medicines,” said retiree John Wittrock, fighting a case of the sniffles. “I mean, I need it right now.”
“Meth is definitely a problem,” he added, but meth makers “can just go to the next town to get what they need.”
Washington and Union, six miles apart, are fast-growing towns in a scenic part of the state about 50 miles from St. Louis. A growing number of suburbanites are moving to the area in search of small-town life that is still near enough to the amenities of a metropolitan area.
Drug Enforcement Administration statistics show that Missouri annually has far more meth lab incidents — arrests, dump sites and seizures — than any other state. Last year, there were nearly 1,500 — more than twice as many as in Indiana, the No. 2 state.