Tag Archives: methamphetamine

Meth and other drugs overwhelm reservations

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

New America Media’s Jacob Simas and Two Rivers Tribune‘s Allie Hostler joined forces to examine how the nation’s rural methamphetamine epidemic has devastated the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Northern California, as well as the nation’s American Indian population in general. The Indian Health Service does not track drug abuse, and hard tribe-by-tribe numbers are hard to come by, but the scope of the problem is clear.

Meth abuse rates have reached 30 percent on some rural Indian reservations, and in some Indian communities as many as 65 percent of all documented cases involving child neglect and placement of children in foster care can be traced back to parental involvement with methamphetamine. California Indian Legal Services estimates that in nearly every case they oversee that involves a child being removed from their home, one or both of the parents is using meth. Often in those cases, the baby itself was born with prenatal exposure to the drug.

The broken economy in Hoopa and resulting poverty – the annual household income on the reservation hovers around $13,000 and most families receive tribal government assistance – would seem adequate to explain away the high rates of substance abuse. But those in the community with a sense of history say it’s much more complicated.
Melodie George-Moore teaches English and Native American literature at Hoopa High School. She’s also a leader of traditional Hoopa ceremonies. She believes Hoopa’s drug problem has its roots in historical trauma.

The reservation’s rampant substance abuse has its roots in what the duo calls Hoopa’s “broken economy,” as well as the “historical trauma” unique to conquered native populations. But whatever the cause, the meth epidemic’s public health impact is far-reaching and long-running.

“People who were using during a different time of their life – some might even be in leadership roles in the community – that exposure is now manifesting itself as a very serious disease, because of speed use 30 to 40 years earlier,” she said. “There are young people lining up on dialysis, fetal exposure issues, developmental and behavioral issues… There are days when it’s absolutely overwhelming, some of the realities we see here, the physiological and social realities.”

The second installment in the series focuses on efforts to solve the problem, which include grassroots movements and sweat lodges, as well as a thoroughly overwhelmed infrastructure.

The Tribe’s court estimates that alcohol or substance abuse is a factor in approximately 65 to 70 percent of eviction cases heard by the court, and 75 to 80 percent of child custody and divorce cases. In 2010 the court reported that alcohol or substance abuse was a significant factor in 80 percent of the child abuse and neglect cases heard on the reservation.

The articles were produced as a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

Who monitors pharmacies’ systems to curb pseudoephedrine sales?

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

CVS Pharmacy has been in the news recently after it agreed to pay $75 million in penalties and forfeit $2.6 million in profits made from illegally selling pseudoephedrine. Scott Hensley did a nice job of explaining why the retailer got in trouble, which boils down to a defect in the electronic system the chain used.

As most allergy sufferers know, federal laws (and some state laws) limit how much pseudoephedrine consumers can buy. Retailers are left with the chore of monitoring who buys how much of the drug, which also can be used to make methamphetamine.

As the CVS case seems to show, and my personal experience backs up, retailers apparently can set up their own systems for tracking the sale of pseudoephedrine as long as they meet some basic requirements:

Regulated sellers are required to maintain a logbook, written or electronic, to record sales of products containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine. The seller must enter into the logbook the name of the product, and quantity sold. The customer must write or enter into the logbook their name, address, date, and time of sale. The customer must also sign the logbook. You may not sell the product unless these requirements are met.

What isn’t clear is who is regulating those systems.

If a retailer’s system doesn’t prevent someone from making multiple pseudoephedrine buys and exceeding the federal limit – as happened at CVS – or if a retailer’s computer program mistakenly calculates the wrong amount of pseudoephedrine contained in a medication, then the system is failing. In the case of CVS, the problem happened for more than a year at multiple locations.

Now, for that personal experience I mentioned earlier …

After recently being told I had met my limit of pseudoephedrine at a neighborhood pharmacy, despite the fact that I take less than the maximum dosage to control my allergies, I asked to look at the store’s records.

A sympathetic pharmacist showed me the log of my purchases and I discovered that when I bought a package of 18 pills, the store’s computer recorded it as a package of 18 pills, but it calculated the amount of pseudoephedrine in that package to be the same as what would be in a 36-count package. That amount of pseudoephedrine was what triggered the computer to tell the pharmacy not to sell any more to me.

Once I pointed out the error, the pharmacist got out a calculator and eventually concluded I was right. He was rather incredulous that the error could happen. He tells me that he’s put in a request with the company’s help desk to fix the problem.

However, I’m left wondering whether my name is flagged in a computer database somewhere because of the store’s error and how many other innocent people are also flagged. Not to mention how many allergy sufferers have been left unable to breathe properly because computer systems show they’ve bought more pseudoephedrine than they actually have.

Perhaps more importantly, what about the methamphetamine criminal cases that have been brought as a result of authorities examining these records? There was recently a large raid on meth labs in my area based on pharmacy records and the pharmacist I talked to said he’d been in court testifying recently in meth cases. Could errors in pharmacy records be a defense attorney’s dream?