Executive Director says pseudoephedrine should become a prescription drug
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — A new law that enters the names of pseudoephedrine purchasers into a national database to help track potential meth makers may not be enough to stem the tide of this drug problem, according to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who announced this past week that busts had reached a record high of 344 in 2011.
Pseudoephedrine, which is contained in a number of cold and sinus remedies, is the main ingredient in highly addictive methamphetamine, also known as “speed,” “chalk,” “crystal,” or “crank.”
Cooper attributed the increase in meth lab arrests to the rise of the “one pot” or “shake-and-bake” method of making meth and to increased law enforcement efforts. He said the Legislature might have to consider making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug, as it was until 1976.
“It would be expensive to do, but it may come down to that sooner or later,” Cooper told the media. “We have to keep up, because (the users) will always be one step ahead.”
Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), chairman of the House Select Committee on Methamphetamine Abuse, said he and other lawmakers are closely monitoring the electronic tracking law that took effect Jan. 1 and also hearing testimony about education programs and other methods of battling the problem. Although he supported the compromise law which linked Tar Heel pharmacies with the National Precursor Log Exchange, Horn had initially floated a bill that would have made pseudoephedrine a schedule III substance available only by prescription. He told fellow lawmakers last session that an estimated 70 percent of pseudoephedrine purchased in the state is used for meth production.
“That’s a lot of pseudoephedrine going into the wrong hands. And while we can appreciate that electronic tracking will slow it down, we need to do more,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “This week we were told that more than two-thirds of North Carolina pharmacies are now using the electronic tracking system, but that means nearly a third are not, so smurfing is still a very real possibility.”
Since 2006, state law has limited the pseudoephedrine purchases to two packages at once and only three within a 30-day period. Prior to the electronic tracking, meth makers were easily side-stepping the law by going from one pharmacy to the next, buying the limit at each. Although the tracking makes it more difficult, there is also the possibility that meth lab operators will just widen their networks and persuade more users to make purchases for them.
Already some law enforcement officials point to the fact that meth suspects waste no time getting back in the game when released on bond. Capt. Craig Fish with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Department told the media that about 96 percent of meth users will use again after they’re arrested. He would like to see suspects banned from buying any pseudoephedrine while awaiting trial and those convicted of meth use or manufacture permanently cut off.
The Rev. Creech admitted that making the drug available by prescription only is not ideal since it would inconvenience some legitimate users of the medicine, but he said it is necessary to truly make an impact on the problem. He said there are 137 alternatives to pseudoephedrine, many of which have fewer side effects and precautions.
“Again, we’re glad to see the tracking, but making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug would be much more efficient and would drastically reduce the amount of it on the street to begin with, so there wouldn’t be a need for all these other proposed laws to keep suspects and convicted meth users from buying it,” the Rev. Creech added.