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Retailers Enlisted to Fight Meth Abuse

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore made an appeal yesterday to supermarkets, drug stores, and other retailers to monitor sales of common household products that could be transformed into the dangerous party drug methamphetamine, more commonly known as meth, the Associated Press reports.

Displayed in front of Kilgore at a press conference as he announced the formation of his voluntary Virginia Meth Watch program were dozens of common products such as cold medicine, table salt and kitchen matches -- all of which can be used to make meth.

The products themselves shouldn't arouse suspicion, according to Kilgore, but when they're purchased or shoplifted in huge numbers and unusual combinations, retailers should take note.

"A customer buying cold medicine ought not be out of the norm, but a customer buying a case of cold medicine ought to raise eyebrows," Kilgore said. Such medicines contain pseudoephedrine, an important compound in making meth.

The FDA classifies methamphetamine, a synthetic nervous system stimulant, as a Schedule II controlled substance. It's normally encountered in powder form that can be snorted, taken by mouth, or injected, but it's most addictive in its pure crystalline form, which when smoked, can result in paranoid delusions and hallucinations.

Its street names are ice, crystal, fire, speed, chalk, and crank. Using it can lead to seizures, high blood pressure, skin ulcers, chronic fatigue, anorexia, cardiac arrest, and death.

Meth doesn't only pose a danger to users, however. According to the February issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, children are found in around one-third of meth lab raids, having come into contact with noxious substances like battery acid, camping fuel, and pool cleaning acid. Approximately 35 percent of such children have toxic levels of chemicals in their bodies. The FBI report estimated that as many as 90 percent of meth labs go undetected.

Although relatively new to Virginia, its manufacture has increased lately. State Police figures show that the number of meth lab seizures went from one in 2000, five in 2001 to 40 so far this year. According to the DEA's Web site, most meth activity in Virginia is in its far southwestern corner, near the North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky borders, with the highest percentage of meth abusers in the Shenandoah Valley region.

By inviting major grocery and pharmacy chains to join the program, Kilgore's aim is to make checkout lines, observant employees, and computer programs that flag suspicious purchases an early detection tool for law enforcement.
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