The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 11, 2013

Quandary

Would requiring prescription for allergy products quell meth labs?

Stories by Register-Herald statehouse reporter Mannix Porterfield last week clearly laid out the dilemma facing lawmakers and health care advocates alike: How do we keep pseudoephedrine out of the hands of meth-makers?

Found in many allergy and cold remedies, pseudoephedrine is a critical element in cooking meth. Currently, it can be bought over the counter, but the amount one person can buy is limited by law.

Purchases are tracked electronically through the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx.

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, and Wood County Delegate John Ellem believe NPLEx is not working, saying that meth-makers are finding ways of beating the system, paying stand-ins to buy the pills for them, then mixing up their addictive brew.

Both want to revisit previously failed legislation to make the purchase of pseudoephedrine products available by prescription only.

On the other side is Carlos Gutierrez, director of governmental affairs for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, in Washington, D.C. Gutierrez says a prescription law could make matters worse.

By his way of thinking, if a doctor prescribes it, the patient is not held to the existing limits of 3.6 grams a day, 7.2 each month, and 48 grams in a year.

His argument: “Imagine if I was able to get a prescription for a whole year. How are criminals not going to take advantage of that and then have no limit on how much pseudoephedrine product they’re able to obtain?”

He also holds up the example of the prescription painkiller epidemic that holds southern West Virginia in its ugly grasp. If prescriptions are a good way to keep people from purchasing painkillers, then why, he asks, do we have a prescription drug problem today?

A valid question in our opinion.

But West Virginia State Police statistics seem to bear out Perdue and Ellem’s claims that the number of meth labs busted this year will be, far and away, greater than last year when 271 were shut down.

According to State Police, more than 300 labs have been discovered to date.

That is a serious increase.

But still, Gutierrez makes a legitimate claim — sales of almost 10,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine-laced medications were denied through the first six months of 2013.

Therein lies the quandary. We think everything that can be done to deter this scourge that is eating away at the very core of society should be done. And maybe requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine can do that.

However, it has been our experience that people intent on doing harm will find a way to accomplish it no matter what preventive measures exist.

It is usually the law-abiding citizen who is inconvenienced or hurt by measures intended to stop criminals.

There are questions that need answered. What are other states doing? Are they requiring a prescription? If so, has it solved their meth problems?

If a prescription law passes here, will it really help? Will meth heads intent on brewing up the deadly mixture head across state lines to buy their pills? How will we stop that?

What will it take to turn the tide against the wave of meth-makers spreading their poison, often putting innocent lives at risk?

Every lawmaker, every adviser, everyone in law enforcement — everyone — must come together to make it happen. Why not have a summit, as was done with the pain pill problem?

As we did with painkillers, let us put our heads together with other states in an attempt to pass laws that mesh to form a net that meth heads cannot breach with trickery. Let us brainstorm with our congressional representatives about whether this is an issue that needs national attention.

It’s up to each of us to make sure all that can be done to stop both pills and meth is being done.

Our future hangs in the balance.

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