There’s been a dramatic reduction in the number of illegal meth labs discovered in the state, and Iowa’s “drug czar” credits a new law as well as news reports about that law. Marvin Van Haaften, the director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, on Monday got the initial report of how many labs were busted in Iowa last month. “I thought, ‘Wow, something’s going on here that I hadn’t planned on this early,'” Van Haaften says. A new state law went into effect May 21st that forced retailers to put products that contain pseudoephedrine behind the counter because pseudoephedrine is a main ingredient in meth. You have to ask a pharmacist to get such cold and allergy remedies, then show an ID and sign a log book before the purchase is complete. “I really felt, since we have the toughest law in the nation, that we would have dramatic results,” Van Haaften says. Van Haaften, a former county sheriff, says what he didn’t anticipate, though, was that merely having legislators debate those tougher standards would lead meth-makers to quit cooking the drug in Iowa before the bill became law. In May of 2004, Iowa authorities busted 116 meth labs. As of Monday, Iowa’s law enforcement community had reported busting just 28 meth labs during May, 2005. That’s a 76 pecent decline. Van Haaften warns, though, that county sheriffs and other agencies have a few more days to report to the state the meth labs they seized during May. Van Haaften says local governments started the process of restricting access to one of the main ingredients for meth. City officials in Hazelton passed a local ordinance in 2003 that regulated the sale of some over-the-counter cold and allergy medications in hopes of reducing the number of meth labs in their area. By the time Iowa legislators passed a statewide standard this spring, 22 cities and counties around the state had passed similar ordinances. Van Haaften says one part of the new state law is particularly worrisome to the criminal crowd.Van Haaften is a mentor to a man who has been released after serving time for making and selling illegal drugs. “He has told me that nobody (who) is manufacturing meth is gonig to be foolish enough to go in and show an ID and sign their name,” Van Haaften says. “I think when we put that in the law, we maybe didn’t anticipate what a deterrent effect that would be.” Van Haaften says one reason meth-making started to decline in Iowa even before the law went into effect is because the news media broadcast and published stories about the legislature’s debate of the meth bill. “Good coverage of all of the debate that went on here in Des Moines had a very positive effect,” Van Haaften says.
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