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Anti-Meth Prescription Pseudoephedrine Bills Defeated

State level bills that would have required a prescription for popular over-the-counter (OTC) cold relief medications in a bid to make home methamphetamine cooking more difficult have run into roadblocks in several states this year. This week, prescription-only bills were killed in Oklahoma and withdrawn in Kentucky, and unhappy police and prosecutors are blaming the OTC industry.

The bills in Oklahoma were House Bill 2375 and a companion measure in the Senate, while the bill in Kentucky is Senate Bill 50. They are aimed at "shake and bake" meth labs, which use small amounts of pseudoephedrine and other easily obtained products to produce small amounts of meth, typically a two-liter soft drink bottle.

"Shake and bake" meth cooks are being blamed for an increase in the number of meth labs reported in the last few years. According to an Associated Press report this week, the number of labs reported was up 8.3% in 2011 over 2010.

The OTC industry group the Consumer Healthcare Products Association has indeed lobbied mightily and spent heavily to defeat the bills, which would require prescriptions for such popular OTC medications as Sudafed, Claritin-D, Advil Cold & Sinus, which include pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the popular meth-manufacturing recipe. It isn't apologizing for its actions.

"We believe that requiring a prescription for these medicines containing pseudoephedrine will not solve this problem, but will only place new costs and access restrictions on law abiding Oklahomans who rely on these medicines for relief," association spokeswoman Elizabeth Funderburk told the Associated Press, "We have a shared goal in making sure these medicines do not end up in the hands of criminals, but we believe law abiding citizens should not be forced to bear the burden of a prescription mandate."

"The scare tactics used by the pharmaceutical companies have clearly worked," said Greg Mashburn, one of several district attorneys who urged Oklahoma lawmakers to approve the bill. "Shame on the pharmaceutical companies for knowing they're profiting off meth and pouring tons of money into this effort so they can continue to profit off of it."

But it wasn't just the cold medication trade association opposing the Oklahoma bills. State and local medical, pharmacist, and grocer groups also opposed the bills.

"You're making people come to the doctor for an office visit and pay a co-pay just to get a cold medicine," said Dr. Michael Cooper, a family practitioner in Claremore. "I already have patients who won't come to the office when they're sick because they can't afford the co-pay. We're going to clog the system and make things worse," he told the AP.

Now, it looks like in both Kentucky and Oklahoma, legislators will instead turn to bills requiring a real-time electronic tracking system for pseudoephedrine sales. In Oklahoma, such compromise legislation is underway, while in Kentucky, Sen. Tom Jensen (R), sponsor of SB 50, said he is working on compromise legislation, too.

"We've probably reached some consensus on where we want to go," Jensen told the Lexington Courier-Journal Thursday, but declined to discuss specifics of the compromise.

Similar bills are being considered in Alabama, Indiana, and West Virginia. Two states, first Oregon and then Mississippi, have already enacted pseudoephredrine prescriptions laws.

Oregon in particular has touted the success of its prescription law, but a study released this week by the Cascade Policy Institute scoffs at that claim. The report's findings are evidenced by its title, Making Cold Medicine RX Only Did Not Reduce Meth Use.

State Drug Warriors Want Prescription Requirement for Sudafed [FEATURE]

Over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicine consumers in a number of states could become unwilling participants in the perpetual war against methamphetamine as legislators consider bills that would require prescriptions for OTC preparations containing pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical used in meth manufacture. But the moves are raising alarm bells among some economists and the OTC industry, which is touting its own electronic tracking system as an alternative.

By prescription only? Maybe in Kentucky, Nevada, and Tennessee.
The sale of OTCs containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, is already restricted under the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which went into effect in 2006. That act requires that such preparations be kept behind the counter, that customers must present ID, that purchases be entered into a logbook accessible to law enforcement, and that purchases be limited to 3.6 grams per day or 9 grams every 30 days.

A number of states have enacted their own precursor tracking laws, and they were at least temporarily effective at reducing the number of meth labs. But as the Associated Press recently reported, those laws are increasingly ineffective, as meth producers enlist armies of "smurfs" to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine within legal limits, then pay them black market prices for their cold pills.

Two states -- Oregon and Mississippi -- have enacted laws required prescriptions for such products and are able to point at reductions in meth lab busts as an indicator they are working. Oregon reported that meth lab busts dropped from 190 in 2005 to 12 in 2009.

Now, legislators in at least three states -- Kentucky, Nevada, and Tennessee -- want to enact similar prescription laws. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), which represents the multi-billion dollars OTC industry, is fighting back, and it's not alone in criticizing the measures.

"This is just stupid," said Jeffrey Tucker, an economist at the libertarian-leaning Ludwig von Mises Institute and a long-time critic of what he calls the "War on Sudafed." "It hurts innocent people and rewards the dealers. Requiring prescriptions for Sudafed will just increase the buy-sell spread between the retail price and the street price and provide an even greater incentive for people to traffic. Lawmakers may want to stop meth production, but it's not going to work. If lawmakers could snap their fingers and make everybody lead a good, healthy life, I'm sure they would, but they can't."

Not only are the efforts to control pseudoephedrine counterproductive, they also harm millions of innocent consumers, Tucker said. He pointed to the effects of already existing restrictions on purchases.

"Before the restrictions kicked in, people were buying it to make meth, but meth usage wasn't any worse when President Bush began this than it was a decade earlier," said Tucker. "It wasn't exactly a big crisis. Only after the restrictions did meth become a major national problem, because it then became an incredibly profitable enterprise. It was now scarce, producers had reason to involve even more people, and they could afford to do so. Now, there are large communities involved in collecting Sudafed to make meth, and there is a strong incentive for producers to find even larger markets. The whole thing has backfired," he said.

If governments insist on continuing down the path of trying to repress meth production by restricting access to precursors like pseudoephedrine, then requiring prescriptions is the logical next step, said Tucker.

"But that won't work either, because anyone can go to the clinic and get a prescription, but now the stuff will be worth its weight in gold. This is a classic case of a bad policy backfiring, with many innocent victims. There is just no end to this. We keep increasing the misery and the coercion in the name of the drug war, and it doesn’t help the drug war."

While Tucker questions the whole logic of drug prohibition, the CHPA accepts that logic, but is seeking to minimize harm to its members who peddle the remedies, as well as the tens of millions of consumers who use them to fend off cold and allergy symptoms. Those consumers face having to go and pay for doctor's visits in order to get something they are currently able to buy by walking up to a counter.

The CHPA is pushing NPLEx, an industry-funded, real-time, electronic tracking system. The system is already in place in 12 states, including Kentucky, where the CHPA says it is blocking the sale of about 10,000 grams a month of pseudoephedrine.

"NPLEx is the better alternative to prescription status for PSE [pseudoepehedrine] that results in no new barriers to consumers, imposes no new costs on the healthcare system, allows the state to keep sales taxes generated by OTC PSE sales, meets the law enforcement goal of preventing illegal sales of PSE, and is provided to states and retailers at no charge," the association argues.

But that's not stopping lawmakers, prodded by law enforcement, from proposing the precursor prescription bills. In Kentucky, the bill is HB 15 (with identical companion bill SB 45); in Nevada, Sen. Sheila Leslie (D-Reno) will push an as yet un-filed prescription bill, and in Tennessee, lawmakers are likely to file both a prescription bill and a competing electronic tracking bill in the next few days.

For economist Tucker, lawmakers are engaged in quixotic, fruitless, and even counterproductive effort. "There are 50 different ways to make meth, and the drugs get ever more dangerous," he said. "Meth is a dreadfully dangerous drug anyway, but when you relegate it to amateurs cooking it at stoplights, it's catastrophic."

America loves its stimulants, as a glance at any Starbucks filled with happy caffeine-guzzlers or convenience store aisle lined with "energy drink" products will demonstrate. Perhaps instead of trying to repress methamphetamine, we could try to regulate it. But that's a very hard sell for what is arguably the most demonized of America's demon drugs.

Methamphetamine: Cold Sufferers Caught in the Crosshairs

Meth lab busts nationwide were up 27% last year over the previous year, according to the DEA, and state legislatures, prodded by law enforcement, are responding with a new batch of bills to ban pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in home-cooked meth, but also a key ingredient in widely used cold remedies such as Sudafed and Claritin-B.
In at least three states -- California, Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri -- bills to make products containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only have been or will be filed. Meanwhile, Mississippi this week became the first state this year to pass such a law, and only the second in the nation. Oregon passed such a law in 2006 and saw a dramatic reduction in meth lab busts.

In Mississippi, Gov. Hailey Barbour (R) is poised to sign HB 512, which would make ephedrine and pseudoephedrine Schedule III controlled substances available only by prescription. The measure passed the House 45-4 late last month and passed the Senate 45-4 on Tuesday.

The Tuesday vote came as about 50 uniformed members of Mississippi law enforcement looked on from the gallery. Mississippi law enforcement had been the primary force behind the bill.

As the cops looked on, supporters of the bill fended off amendments to the bill that would allow patients to be charged lower than normal fees when going to a physician to get a prescription. Opponents of the bill had argued that it would place a burden on Mississippi residents who would now be saddled with having to pay for a doctor's visit and a co-pay for their now prescription drug.

"I look forward to signing House Bill 512, which will make it more difficult to obtain the ingredients for this drug that tears families apart and harms many of our communities," Barbour said in a statement.

Barbour and the cops may have been happy, but the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents over-the-counter medicine makers, was not. The bill will be a burden on residents and will raise health care costs in the state, the group said.

"We are disappointed that the Mississippi Senate chose to overlook consumer sentiment and passed a bill today that will significantly impact how cold and allergy sufferers access some of their medicines," said association spokeswoman Linda Suydam. "While well-intentioned, this bill will impose an unnecessary burden on Mississippians, despite there being a better and more effective solution to address the state's meth production problem."

The association said that electronic tracking of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine was a "more effective, less-costly alternative, and one that eight states have adopted to fight domestic methamphetamine production while maintaining consumer access to these medicines."

Indiana is also moving to restrict pseudoephedrine, but not to make it prescription-only. The state Senate voted 46-4 Tuesday to approve SB 383, which limits customers to 3.6 grams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in one day and nine grams of the drugs in one month. That bill now heads to the House.

Law Enforcement: Utah "Meth Cops" Lose Out on Health Claims

More than 50 Utah law enforcement officers have filed workers compensation claims over ailments they believe were caused by exposure to methamphetamine labs, but none have been approved, and most have been dismissed for lack of evidence or because officers sought dismissal in a bid to come up with evidence. Only five cases are still pending.
meth lab
"They have to have enough evidence to justify the claims," said Carla Rush, adjudication manager for the Utah Labor Commission, which handles the claims. "Preferably a doctor saying they have been injured in a work-related exposure to meth. That would be the best evidence."

Scores of Utah police officers participated in breaking down clandestine meth labs in the 1980s and 1990s, wearing only standard police-issue uniforms. That was before they understood the caustic nature of some of the chemicals involved in cooking meth. Now, officers on meth lab duty wear air tanks and hazmat suits.

Those officers from the old days began filing claims asserting that a variety of physical ailments they were suffering were the result of meth lab exposure. By 2006, the Utah legislature commissioned a half-million dollar study to explore the issue. But that study, which was meant to establish a causal link between meth exposure and everything from cancer to nerve damage, was inconclusive.

The state has also paid out tens of thousands of dollars to the Utah Meth Cops Project for a scientifically unsupported detox regime backed by the Church of Scientology. But toxicologists say that toxins would have left the officers' bodies long ago, and the detox program is little more than quackery.

How about a study of legalization, to eliminate the meth lab problem once and for all -- followed by a detox from the consequences of prohibition?

Meth production down in state, but use is not

United States
Spartanburg Herald Journal (SC)

Why Does DEA Teach Meth-Cooking to the Public?

This is just bizarre. I swear, every time I think I'm on the verge of understanding what motivates these people, they find increasingly strange ways to waste our money:

Cooking methamphetamine takes only a few hours and requires simple household ingredients, like striker plates from matchbooks, the guts of lithium batteries, drain cleaner.

"It's pretty gross," said Matt Leland, who works in career services at the University of Northern Colorado and who recently helped cook the drug in a lab. "If someone was truly interested in manufacturing meth, it would not be that hard."

The Drug Enforcement Administration invited Leland and other citizens - such as software engineers, a teacher, a pastor and a school principal - to make methamphetamine last week in a lab at Metropolitan State College of Denver. [Denver Post]

Ok. We understand that DEA is teaching private citizens how to manufacture meth, but why? Why the hell would they do that?

The class was held as part of the DEA's first Citizens Academy in order to give the public a close-up view of what the agency does to keep drugs off the street.

That's interesting, and I'm eager to attend, but it doesn't answer the question because cooking meth isn’t part of DEA's job at all. Their job is, of course, to stop people from cooking meth, which has now become the precise opposite of what they're doing.

The whole thing is mindlessly indulgent when you consider that no one really needs a chemistry lesson to infer that the constant explosions at their crazy neighbor's house might explain why he has so many strange visitors.

If you're gonna teach meth-cooking, teach it to immigrant store clerks before you arrest them for naively selling household items to undercover narcs.

United States

Can You Smell the Meth?

This story might take first prize in a week already marred by frivolous lawsuits and other stupid drug-related news:
A deputy U.S. marshal based in Charleston is suing the makers of the popular cold remedy Zicam over his lost sense of smell, which he says has put him in danger of being unknowingly exposed to methamphetamine labs.

As a federal law enforcement officer, he said his duties sometimes expose him to methamphetamine labs, which are considered dangerous to be in contact with. [Charleston Daily Observer]
Come to think of it, I too am deeply concerned about being exposed to highly-toxic meth labs. Who shall I sue? Perhaps the shortsighted legislators who've created a black market and ensured the continued illicit production of methamphetamine in our communities.

And before we get too excited about this cool drug that prevents cops from smelling things, note that Zicam's manufacturer says this is nonsense. They claim that allegations of smelling-loss occur because Zicam is a cold medicine popular among people with horrible pre-existing respiratory problems.

Sounds plausible enough, but good luck explaining "correlation is not causation" to a drug warrior.

United States

Op-Ed: Meth trade not gone, just evolving

United States
The News Tribune (WA)

Meth battle sees new fronts

United States
The News Tribune (WA)

Laws change way users get their drug of choice

United States
Tri-City Herald (WA)

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