Prescriptions for cold meds are vital in meth fight

Jan. 01, 2013 @ 09:11 AM

Methamphetamine labs are costing the taxpayers of this state millions of dollars and hundreds of lives.  The cost of incarceration, clean-up, non-burn meth injuries, losses in personal property and social services expenditures as a result of meth lab incidents result in North Carolinians carrying a tremendous financial burden.  The North Carolina General Assembly has not been ignored this challenge.

 The only ingredient absolutely necessary to make meth is pseudoephedrine.  Law enforcement estimates that over 70 percent of ALL purchases of all Pseudoephedrine-containing medications end up in methamphetamine.  It has also been reported by ABC News and confirmed to me by Wake Medical Center that approximately 30 percent of all the patients in all the burn units in all the hospitals are there from meth-related incidents. Again, this stuff is costing us millions, money desperately needed for education, roads and medical care for our citizens.

Two states have implemented a prescription-only requirement for Pseudoephedrine-containing medications, Oregon in 2007 and Mississippi last year.  In both states overall crime rate has dropped over 70 percent, meth labs have virtually dried up and consumers have not experienced the difficulties, costs or inconveniences that you have described; doctors, pharmacists and insurance companies have worked together to ameliorate such experiences.

Pseudoephedrine is commonly found in about 15 popular and commercially available medications.  When these medications were first introduced into the marketplace, they were prescription-only.  As a result of pressure from both “Big Pharma” and citizen demand, the prescription-only requirement was removed and eventually these mediations found their way onto the shelf with no purchase limitations.  In 2005, as a result of overwhelming evidence about the problems resulting from these medications, they were moved back behind the pharmacy counter and consumers were required to show photo-identification to purchase them.  In 2011, the General Assembly implemented the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) system requiring pharmacies to log the purchase of pseudoephedrine-containing medications BEFORE handing them to the consumer.  The system then authorizes or blocks the sale, depending on the amount of these medications the consumer had already purchased that month.  The NPLEx System was touted as an effective method to thwart the growth of meth labs in our state.  Although the system worked exactly as prescribed, it has not delivered on the promise of reducing meth lab incidents; quite the contrary.

Meth Lab Incidents have grown to epidemic proportions, especially in Anson and Union Counties that now lead the Central Piedmont in the number of meth incidents in 2012.   Meth Lab incidents have increased nearly 30 percent over 2011 across North Carolina and are no longer isolated to poor or rural areas.

Columnist Scott Mooneyham of Capitol Press Association acknowledges that the statistics he points to are “open to wide interpretation” and credits decreases in meth incidents in some states are the result of heightened law enforcement.  I suggest that Mr. Mooneyham talk to local law enforcement for a more enlightened view of how they are dealing with methamphetamine labs in our state.

I am told that manufacturers of these medications could quickly, easily and inexpensively solve this problem for us all simply by producing them in a form that could not be broken down for use by meth cookers. They have done so with OxyContin and similar drugs already, but not without some pressure from government.  Pseudoephedrine is a billion dollar a year business. If the law enforcement estimates of 70 percent diversion to meth are anywhere close to true, those manufacturers will fight hard to resist losing any part of their business. Sadly, it is the legitimate and innocent consumer that again pays the price.

Recently a couple of small pharmaceutical manufacturers have developed pseudoephedrine-containing medications that cannot be broken down for use in meth. One company already has the federal approvals necessary and has begun retailing this medication in two states as I understand.  Another manufacturer expects to have federal approval any day now and is ready to immediately start production. The only requirement for the "big guys" to move ahead with releasing similar medications is a demand.  

I have been working on this issue for about two years and have no desire to inconvenience anyone; I am a small government kind of guy.  I am sick and tired of the government sticking its nose into every facet of our lives. But, without a strong policy to thwart the proliferation of meth cookers in North Carolina, our government will continue to grow, people will continue to die and we will spend millions more of our tax dollars to deal with this problem.  The sins of a few are punishing the masses.

I get the part about Nanny Laws being the complete opposite of the smaller government credo; I ascribe to the concept that "government governs best that governs least."  That's a great philosophy until a meth lab blows up next to a school bus or in a daycare center or in a car next to you at a stop light or in the next room at a hotel in which you are staying. I want to enforce the laws of this state and do not want to increase those laws in number. But we have neither the money nor the resources in this state to be looking behind every door or in every car nor should we.  

I believe that good alternatives to a prescription-only law are available.  But, I also believe that it may take such a law in order to have those alternatives brought to market.  I wish to be wrong.

 

• D. Craig Horn is a representative in the State House from the 68th district and chairs a committee trying to find a solution to the methamphetamine problem,