Making decongestants prescription-only won't solve meth problem - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Making decongestants prescription-only won't solve meth problem

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    Robert N. Hart
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Gary Howell, R-Mineral, is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

If you catch a cold this winter, or if spring flowers make you sneeze, then you are a menace to society and must be punished by making anything containing pseudoephedrine a prescription, which is what some West Virginia legislators are proposing for the upcoming legislative session as a solution to the state's meth problem. Meth is a dangerous drug but that is the wrong approach. Here is why they want to make pseudoephedrine a prescription. Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in most over-the-counter decongestants that clear your head, but it is also the sought after ingredient for making methamphetamine, the illegal drug commonly referred to as meth.

Making it hard for criminals to purchase pseudoephedrine looks like a good idea on the surface, and it is, but it ignores a lot of other factors. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that more than 80 percent of the meth in the U.S. is smuggled in from Mexico. That means making pseudoephedrine a prescription will have no effect whatsoever on over 80 percent of the illegal meth, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't reduce in-state production. Currently the state requires you to show an ID to purchase pseudoephedrine and that is recorded into an industry-funded tracking system called NPLEx. If you purchase more than you would need for a cold, then it flags you in the system and prevents your purchase. Because the NPLEx system is in most states, it prevents meth makers from going to every pharmacy along their route to get enough to make meth. It works well and is reducing illegal purchases, but it is not perfect and blocks people with large families from purchasing enough for their family.

Making pseudoephedrine a prescription would allow large families to purchase enough, but it causes more problems than it fixes. The cost will go through the roof. My local pharmacy sells a box of cold medicine for about $15 a box. Speaking with my pharmacist, he said, as a prescription, the cost will probably go to about $25 per box. But that is not the whole story, because to get a prescription you are going to need a doctor's visit. That will cost you between $80 and $100. For those on public assistance who do not have a family doctor and use the emergency room as their family doctor, now the taxpayer is looking a $1,000 emergency room visit to get a prescription for what was a $15 purchase. And you think Medicaid is broken now? But the problems don't stop there. Once pseudoephedrine becomes a prescription, then it is a controlled substance and you must have a prescription to possess the medicine. So if a tourist visiting our state has a flat tire and one of our officers stops to help and sees over-the-counter allergy medicine in their console and they don't have a prescription, then they are breaking the law. Is that a message we want to send to tourists when the state's economy has a large tourism component?

There is a solution that allows the law-abiding public to purchase their cold and allergy medicine without a prescription but at the same time punishes the criminals that are the problem. Make pseudoephedrine a prescription for anyone convicted of a drug crime. Speaking with people familiar with the NPLEx system, they tell me it would be very easy to have the system flag those convicted of a drug crime. Since most in the social circles of meth makers have drug convictions of some kind, having others purchase for them will be unlikely under this system. It will block most criminals from purchasing pseudoephedrine just like the total prescription plan would, without the bad effects on law abiding citizens.

The question becomes should the government punish honest people and taxpayers through higher cost by making pseudoephedrine a prescription for all or actually punish the criminals that are the problem? Let's make pseudoephedrine a prescription for only those convicted of a drug crime.