WASHINGTON – Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards (search) called Monday for tighter restrictions on the sale of nonprescription cold medicines that could be used to make methamphetamine.
"It's part of our plan to deal with what we see as a cancer on rural America, which are these methamphetamine labs and the impact that methamphetamine has had on so many families in rural America," Edwards told reporters in a telephone conference as he campaigned in Newton, Iowa.
The North Carolina senator cited a 79 percent increase in the number of illegal meth labs that have been discovered since President Bush took office in January 2001. He also criticized the Bush administration for trying to cut law enforcement programs that fight trafficking in the Midwest of the addictive, illegal stimulant.
Authorities say meth addiction is a growing problem because it is easy to make with household chemicals and over-the-counter cold medicines. The epidemic is spreading quickly, particularly in rural areas like southern Missouri, which shut down nearly 3,000 meth labs last year, more than any other state.
Edwards said he and presidential nominee John Kerry (search) would propose legislation to limit consumers to two standard packages per day of cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used in Sudafed and other drugs. Bulk sales of cold medicines would be more closely monitored to track suspicious sales.
They also would propose spending $30 million annually for 10 years to fund law enforcement efforts and help farmers buy better locks to secure ammonia tanks where drug dealers steal the ammonia they need to make meth.
The Democrats also would provide tax incentives for family farmers to buy a more costly form of ammonia that is resistant to meth production, and include funding for education and treatment of meth abusers and money to help local communities clean up meth labs.
Meth, which first became popular on the West Coast, is also known informally as "speed" or "chalk." Highly addictive, it can be smoked, snorted or injected.
Scott Burns, the Bush administration's deputy drug czar, acknowledged during congressional testimony last February that there was a "lack of national uniformity" to the meth problem.
Burns said the administration has spent millions on federal, state and local teams that are battling meth in the Midwest, the Southwest and California. He said the administration supports expanding federal drug courts and working to "tighten regulatory controls" on meth ingredients.