Meth Activity Prompts 2 States to Require Prescriptions for Over the Counter Drugs

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Don’t be so sure you can get your favorite over-the-counter cold medicine for your next cold. Two states have passed legislation requiring a doctor’s prescription for OTC medicine, and other states are looking at it.

For years, several states have used an electronic tracking system to crack down on the sale of illegal amounts of pseudoephedrine – a popular meth ingredient. Customers looking for OTC medicine with pseudoephedrine have to show ID and frequently sign in to a log. Even the National Sheriffs’ Association endorses the use of a multistate electronic tracking system as an effective tool in the fight against meth labs.

New federal data shows, despite the tracking systems, meth-related activity is on the rise, up 34 percent in 2009. Now two states -- Oregon and Mississippi -- require a prescription for pseudoephedrine products.

Elizabeth Funderburk is a spokesperson for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. She represents the leading manufacturers – the companies we turn to when we have the sniffles.

“We very much oppose the prescription (mandate),” Funderburk said. “Addressing the people who illegally purchase pseudoephedrine is best handled by law enforcement rather than the doctors. We don’t need to add to the current strain health care has on our economy.”

From her standpoint, citizens don’t want the government in their medicine cabinets. Instead, it would be more effective to improve, expand and refine the electronic tracking system.

“We need state interconnectivity,” she said.

Electronic tracking is like showing an ID at a liquor store. A pharmacist checks whether the customer already purchased the legal limit of pseudoephedrine in real time. Showing ID to buy the product is already required by federal law. The system simply checks to see if the buyer is within legal limits, but it stops there. Many pharmacies, especially ones across state lines, don’t communicate with each other.

“One problem is not all retail systems are linked, so people who want to purchase it to make illegal drugs would pharmacy hop and purchase as much as they could,” said Heather Free, pharmacy manager at BioScrip Pharmacy in Washington, D.C. “They would also pay others to make purchases for them. They would even go as far as to drive to other states and load up their trunks going place to place.”

Some pharmacists say the current system just needs more time.

Tim Tucker is a pharmacist in Huntingdon, Tenn. He is also the former president and board member of the American Pharmacists Association.

“Some people think the prescription is the answer. All of my life you’ve been able to get pseudoephedrine by going to your local pharmacy,” said Tucker. “I think the biggest thing that concerns me is our health care system is already taxed beyond the health care providers we have can handle, it’s very unnecessary for someone with a simple congestion problem.”

But there are two sides to every story. For Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the electronic tracking system may not go far enough.

His state enacted laws requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine products in 2006. Since then, his office reports a reduction in meth lab busts. Oregon officials report meth lab busts dropped from 190 in 2005 to 12 in 2009. Mississippi has a similar law and Kentucky lawmakers are looking to pass legislation too.

"Meth manufacturing is a scourge that has been all but eliminated in Oregon thanks to a groundbreaking law that has shut down meth labs and put 'smurfers' out of business," Wyden said in a release. "Now is the time to take Oregon's success in the war against meth to the rest of the nation and eliminate this plague once and for all."