By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
December 20, 2012
RALEIGH — Lawmakers who tried to crack down on methamphetamine production last year by forcing stores to electronically track their sales of pseudoephedrine may be more willing to declare this main meth ingredient a Schedule III drug after hearing the latest statistics on meth lab busts.
According to the State Bureau of Investigation, law enforcement has raided 444 labs so far this year, nearly 30 percent more than the record set in 2011, one of a number of factors that has the House Select Committee on Methamphetamine Abuse calling for legislation similar to that in Oregon and Mississippi, that would make pseudoephedrine products that are precursors to meth available by prescription only.
Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) who had argued strongly for the prescription-only requirement initially called for nearly two years ago in House Bill 12, said Saturday that failure to do so has cost the state meth deaths and hundreds of thousands of dollars, even as stores have for a year monitored sales of pseudoephedrine.
“The system does exactly what it is intended to do, but it has no impact on reducing the meth lab incidences in the state,” he said.
Instead of keeping the cold medicines out of the hands of meth cookers, he said the tracking system has simply led to growth in the cottage industry of smurfing — purchasing the maximum amount of pseudoephedrine allowed by the state and selling it at a high profit margin to lab operators.
Prior to 1976, pseudoephedrine was sold only by prescription. Once over the counter, abuse began to grow. To help slow it down lawmakers in 2005 ordered it sold behind the counter and pharmacies began asking for identification and signatures of purchasers. Last year’s move to a system called NPLEx (National Precursor Log Exchange) was designed to make it easier to track people who were buying the maximum at one store and then driving down the street to do the same at the next.
But Horn says meth cookers simply send acquaintances in to do their buying for them.
“A meth cooker gives a person $20 and says go buy me as much Sudafed as you can. They spend $8 on the Sudafed and keep the rest of the money. There are a whole lot of people out there willing to spend eight and get 20. So this system does nothing to reduce the meth labs,” he said. Further, he said when people do purchase the drugs; the system informs them exactly how much they can legally buy at that time, which encourages them to ask for the max.
As important as the failure of the tracking system is to the push for stronger legislation is the apparent success of laws in Mississippi and Oregon, which have significantly reduced meth labs (93 percent decrease in Mississippi; 96 percent in Oregon) without the predicted financial crises that some lawmakers feared.
Horn said he still expects changing pseudoephedrine to a prescription only drug to be a hard sell as people don’t want the Legislature “sticking its nose into their medicine cabinet.” But he said data from the prescription-only states shows that fears of people not being able to get their medicine because they can’t afford doctors’ visits have not been realized.
“Oregon and Mississippi found ways to deal with it, and we can too,” he said.
In addition to suggesting prescription-only status for pseudoephedrine, the House committee recommended legislation that would increase penalties for anyone manufacturing meth in the presence of children, the disabled or elderly as well as the creation of a criminal offense for the purchase or possession of a pseudoephedrine product by someone with a prior record of meth possession or manufacture. They also asked for the General Assembly to pass a law ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to study current cleanup rules for meth lab properties and to come up with a recommended meth concentration level to be used as part of a post-cleanup inspection.
“We know that any law that restricts pseudoephedrine to a prescription is going to inconvenience some people who use the medicine legitimately, but we’ve simply got to stop these dealers in death from getting this substance,” said the Rev. Mark Creech. “We appreciate this committee’s work and hope this is a top priority when the Legislature returns next month.”
Horn said the committee’s probing the issue over the past year and a half revealed to him that most of the answers lie with medicine manufacturers.
“There are now two medications — one just received FDA approval and another one is waiting — that include a type of pseudoephedrine that cannot be used to make methamphetamine,” he said. “So the solution to our meth problem is in the hands of manufacturers if we can just direct the public pressure toward them to do the right thing.”