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Biological Chemistry

Chemical regulation related to drop in U.S. illicit drug users

Study examines availability of substances used to manufacture cocaine, methamphetamine

by Jessica Morrison
August 21, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 33

Actions that limited access in the U.S. and Mexico to chemicals used to make illegal drugs may be responsible for a drop in the number of U.S. users of cocaine and methamphetamine, experts say.

In a study, researchers point to two moves by governments that may be linked with these reductions (Addiction 2016, DOI: 10.1111/add.13480).

First, in 2006, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classified sodium permanganate as a List II chemical. This made the compound, used to make cocaine, subject to record-keeping and reporting under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Second, in 2007, Mexican officials seized the assets of a chemical company and accused its leader of importing more than 50 metric tons of pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical for methamphetamine.

James K. Cunningham of the University of Arizona and colleagues examined data from the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use & Health after the two events. The regulation of Na(MnO4) is associated with an estimated 32% decrease, or about 1.9 million cocaine users, between 2006 and 2014, the researchers say. The chemical company bust in Mexico is associated with an estimated drop of 35%, or about half a million methamphetamine users, between 2007 and 2014.

“Cocaine and methamphetamine production for international markets requires access to massive amounts of legally manufactured chemicals,” Cunningham says. “Disrupting that access should disrupt the drugs’ availability and use.”


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