CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's meth narcotic mess is sickening -- destroying lives of addicts, wrecking families, hurting children, injuring police officers, bankrupting landlords and inflicting million-dollar losses on taxpayers -- as reporters Eric Eyre and David Gutman outlined in a two-day report. It's a blight on the Mountain State.
When a clandestine meth-cooking lab spews poisons in an apartment or motel room, cleanup cost can reach $17,000, an expert testified before the Kanawha Coalition for Community Health Improvement.
The state Crime Victims Compensation Fund, designed to help violence sufferers, is becoming a landlord safety net. Last year, it paid $717,000 to 138 landlords whose quarters were tainted. This year, the tab is expected to pass $1 million.
Kanawha County leads in this horror show, with 150 illegal labs found in 2013. Statewide, the total has passed 500. Clearly, little improvement is arising from the state's new system of electronic tracking of pharmacy sales of Sudafed and other decongestants that are converted into narcotics in secret labs.
Kanawha Sheriff Mike Rutherford complained that his department was forced to buy a $125,000 cleanup truck and "moon suits" after six deputies were hospitalized for exposure to meth poisons. Two state troopers were forced into early retirement by lung disease from meth, he said.
The cure for this calamity, obviously, is to curb over-the-counter sales of decongestants containing pseudoephedrine. Mississippi and Oregon made the cold remedies prescription-only, and enjoyed huge reductions in meth labs.
West Virginia almost adopted this reform. In 2011, the House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly for prescriptions -- but the Senate deadlocked in a 16-16 tie, partly because then-Sen. Walt Helmick skipped the vote to attend a luncheon for his grandson.
Another promising solution lies in the development of tamper-resistant decongestants that cannot be cooked in labs. Several honorable West Virginia pharmacies are switching to these brands -- voluntarily losing profits generated by sales for the illicit dope trade.
Next month, some legislators will make another attempt for prescriptions. We hope they achieve a compromise -- allowing tamper-resistant pills to be sold freely, while requiring prescriptions for brands that supply the ghastly narcotic market.
If more states adopt this strategy, the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry swiftly will stop providing raw material for criminals, and make all decongestants tamper-proof.