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Default 12-07-2005, 07:56 AM

There. I just threw three pills down my throat. Now I can write, then exercise, then work. It's another day.
Finding my two blood pressure medications and an over-the-counter allergy tablet with bleary eyes, sleepy hands and a foggy mind is my first goal in the morning. Doctor's orders. Mother's orders, too. Diane's orders as well.

My ritual isn't so different from so many other Americans. We are a nation of drug users.

A "medicate-it mindset" has conditioned us to deal with our problems too often with a bottle, either of pills or alcohol. That mindset has led to ever-increasing innovation and availability of medications that make our days easier and our lives longer.

But those very medications, the ones for our everyday health problems, have now created larger issues. They are, as Capt. Randy Parton of the Sevier County Sheriff's Department put it, "A danger to society as a whole."

Parton is Sheriff Bruce Montgomery's right-hand man when it comes to drug enforcement and was talking about the problem with methamphetamine. Montgomery and Parton have been involved with the fight against meth since 2000 when they joined the South/East Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force.

District Attorney Al Schmutzer Jr. and other district attorneys, working with Gov. Phil Bredesen, have now started a "Meth Destroys" campaign to increase public awareness of the problem.

Meth is synthesized, "cooked" as Parton describes it, in small "labs" using Mason jars, pots and pans, Pyrex dishes and turkey basters. Those labs can be in a shed, a home, a motel room or rental cabin.

Meth is formed by cooking over-the-counter medications containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine into a solid, powder form. The meth can then be snorted or ingested with a liquid. For a quicker high, users will inject it or smoke it from a pipe.

Since 1999, 31 meth labs have been found in Sevier County. The meth problem is particularly acute in our region. Of the 5,304 meth labs seized in Tennessee since 1999, 3,840 of them were in East Tennessee.

Why is meth a danger to society as a whole? In 2004, the Department of Children's Services removed over 800 children from their homes because of meth. The residual materials used in cooking meth, anhydrous ammonia from fertilizer, phosphorous from book matches and sodium metal from batteries, are explosive and present public safety and environmental dangers.

The situation appears to be improving. Since the Tennessee Legislature passed the Meth-Free Tennessee Act of 2005, meth lab seizures have declined from 1,534 in 2004 to 955 in 2005 statewide and from 14 to 4 in Sevier County. The act toughened enforcement, raised awareness and required pharmacists to put medications containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine behind the counter.

But meth is not the only problem stemming from over-the-counter drugs.

Teenagers have turned to Triple C. Triple C derives its name from Coricidin Cough and Cold. This cold medicine, along with dozens of others including some pediatric cold formulas, contains dextramethorphan (DXM). When used in prescribed doses, DXM helps alleviate cold symptoms. When taken in large quantities, it makes kids high.

One user of DXM described his experience on a Web site: "I decided to put on a pair of shoes, and had a great deal of trouble as I could barely see this world. I felt like an alien being, I had no concept of speech, no ability to walk, no concept of self. The effects of the dose lasted for at least three days, and the shear magnitude of it still is with me."

Internet Web sites even coach kids on how much cough and cold medicine they'll need to sneak out of mom and dad's medicine cabinet to get high. Those Web sites don't tell teenagers that Triple C can lead to seizures, brain damage and even death, particularly when combined with alcohol.

Meth is at the front of the public mind, at least in part, because of the property damage it can cause landlords, hoteliers and cabin owners. Our greater concern should be the dangers meth causes kids. And if we're concerned about what meth can do to kids, we should be equally concerned about Triple C.

Both are dangers to society as a whole.
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