Police and prosecutors fighting the methamphetamine epidemic won a small victory recently, when the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the use of an electronic registry that tracks the legal sale of pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth.
The appeals court ruled that information in the registry, the National Precursor Log Exchange, could be used as evidence under the “business record exception” to the hearsay rule, which otherwise excludes testimony or documents that quote people not in court.
It was a victory because of the critical role the registry plays in Indiana’s efforts to curb meth: Investigators use it to find “smurfers” — people who get paid by meth makers to go from one pharmacy to the next to buy pseudoephedrine-containing cold medicine. In the case that went to the appeals court, information in the registry was used to build a drug-dealing case against a 24-year-old Southern Indiana man who was part of family meth-making operation, cooking up the chemically volatile, highly addictive drug in their home.
But I also use the word “small” to describe the legal victory’s effect on what can only be called a scourge, if you define that word, as Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary does: “A source of widespread dreadful affliction and devastation such as that caused by pestilence or war.”
You can measure the dreadful damage in any number of ways:
• By the millions of public and private dollars spent on cleaning up toxic meth labs, including $17 million spent just by Indiana State Police since 1995.
• Or by the record 1,726 meth lab busts made by the Indiana State Police last year — more than twice the busts made by ISP in 2006.
• Or by the average cost of a hospital stay of a meth patient, most of them uninsured, injured when their home-grown meth lab bursts into flames: $130,000, according to an Associated Press study last year of the most active meth states which, sadly, includes Indiana.