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Businesses sign on in meth fight

| January 25, 2005 11:00 PM

By Roger Morris Western News Publisher

Ralph Stever is continuing to wage war against methamphetamine use in Lincoln County with the help of the business community.

While visiting with Pamida store manager Russ Ohm on Friday, Stever said about 40 businesses in Lincoln County have agreed to participate in the statewide Meth Watch program. About 75 businesses in Sanders County participating.

Stever is a substance abuse counselor with the Flathead Valley Dependency Clinic. In 2004, he was named the county preventive specialist. He¹s been working with schools, individuals, parents and businesses, enlisting their help.

While at Pamida, Stever presented Ohm with product shelf tags, window stickers, cash register tags, brochures, and posters and DVDs and a VHS tape for employee training.

³The tags and the window stickers are to increase their paranoia,² Stever said of meth users.

The product tags are especially helpful on shelves containing medicinal products containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making methamphetamine.

It could help deter continued theft of such products, Stever said.

Ohm moved the pharmacy section of the department store closer to the cash registers so a cashier can keep an eye on the pseudoephedrine products.

³Overall, shrinkage (theft) is more in all areas,² Ohm said. But before he moved the pharmacy section, it wasn¹t unusual to find all of the cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine to be gone.

³There was definitely more shrinkage before when it was farther from the cashier¹s eye,² Ohm said.

Other Libby businesses have taken similar actions with area drug stores and convenience stores moving the products behind the counter so people have to request them.

³Anybody selling pseudoephedrine products is keeping a closer eye on it,² Stever said.

The Montana Meth Watch program was adopted in September 2004 by Gov. Judy Martz. The governor announced the program at a statewide summit on the growing threat of meth use in Montana. Because the drug is cheap to make with all the necessary ingredients found in local businesses, the Meth Watch program works toward limiting access to and theft of the ingredient products.

The program is modeled after a successful Kansas program. The program was so successful in the state of Washington that local law enforcement busts of meth labs dropped from 1,800 to 350 within two years, Stever said.

³Because the program has been so successful in Washington, the drug manufacturers are going into Idaho and Montana to purchase their ingredients,² he continued. ³There have been arrests made of people in Washington coming back from these buying trips.²

Not only do the shelf tags and window stickers heighten the paranoia of meth users, already paranoid as a result of the drug¹s use, but it helps businesses keep track of the products used in manufacturing methamphetamine.

The Meth Watch program provides tally sheets for the stores to keep track of unusual behavior of customers purchasing meth ingredients as well as the purchase of large quantities.

Ohm said the program might help with theft of some cold medicines but it won¹t stop someone purchasing the products.

³The main thing I see with this program is it gives the community empowerment to do something,² Stevers said. ³It gets the community on the same page to say ŒIt¹s not going to happen in this town.¹²

Businesses interested in participating in Meth Watch can contact Stever at the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency clinic in Libby at 293-7731.