The Times West Virginian

Opinion

August 11, 2013

Prescription-only pseudoephedrine not the solution to state’s meth problem

Good intentions, sometimes, are not enough.

There could be a push in the West Virginia Legislature to tighten access to pseudoephedrine — a critical element in the making of addictive meth — by requiring a prescription to purchase it, the (Beckley) Register-Herald reported last week.

Indeed, there is a huge problem. According to The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia law-enforcement agencies have seized 332 meth labs in the first half of the year, on pace to more than double the number of busts last year. More than 100 of them were found in Kanawha County.

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, has asked Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to either initiate some litigation or investigate wholesalers and manufacturers of 15 common cold and allergy medications, all of which contain pseudoephedrine, needed to cook methamphetamine.

If Perdue is not satisfied, he is inclined to sponsor a bill requiring a prescription for the medication. Delegate John Ellem, a Wood County Republican, said he intends to offer such a bill for the third time in his legislative career.

It’s known as “the Sudafed bill,” one of the 15 targeted products.

Presently, only Oregon and Mississippi require prescriptions. In West Virginia, pharmacies keep pseudoephedrine behind the counter and demand photo ID for sales.

Under existing law, approved this year, consumers are limited to 3.6 grams a day, 7.2 each month, and 48 grams in a year.

The West Virginia Retailers Association said last Tuesday the real-time tracking system involving 28 states stopped the sale of nearly 10,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine. Mike Goff of the state Board of Pharmacy told the Charleston Daily Mail that’s only about 3 percent of total sales. The former state trooper says West Virginia stores sold more than 236,000 boxes between January and June.

Perdue said that meth lab busts “are increasing like crazy,” despite the electronic monitoring of sales via the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx.

Unfortunately, we believe requiring a prescription would bring disappointing results and unfairly hurt law-abiding citizens.

In fact, Carlos Gutierrez, director of governmental affairs for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, based in Washington, D.C., told the Register-Herald a prescription law could make matters worse.

“If a doctor prescribes it, he or she is able to prescribe as much as you want,” Gutierrez said.

“Imagine if I was able to get a prescription for a whole year. How are criminals not going to take advantage of that and then have no limit on how much pseudoephedrine product they’re able to obtain? Prescriptions are meant to be a health care function. They’re meant for a doctor to oversee a patient, make sure that they’re taking the appropriate amount of the product. They have never been an effective law-enforcement tool.”

To illustrate the abuse of prescriptions, Gutierrez pointed to the pain killer drug epidemic.

“The bottom line is that West Virginia, unfortunately, has an addiction problem, not the least of which, in fact, the biggest drug problem that the state has are prescription drugs,” he said. “Anyone who says prescription is a sudden elixir to this problem, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense, because the state’s No. 1 drug problem is in fact prescription drugs.”

Making pseudoephedrine prescription-only would also make it more expensive and add the cost of a doctor’s visit the those using it legitimately.

“The last thing we should be doing is thinking of putting an adequate, effective, safe medication that thousands of people use that’s already behind the counter and make that a prescription-only product,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez cites figures by the Drug Enforcement Agency showing that 80 percent of meth finds its way into this country via drug cartels.

“Even if Delegate Perdue’s proposal was 100 percent correct and 100 percent effective, you would only be tackling 20 percent of the problem at the cost of every citizen in the state,” he said. “I think there’s a better way. I think NPLEx is the envy of every prescription drug-monitoring program in the country.”

We realize the magnitude of the meth problem in West Virginia and appreciate the attention it’s receiving from lawmakers. Making pseudoephedrine prescription-only, though, is not part of the much-needed effort to continue to address the issue.

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