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State’s prescription abuse problem debated

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Prescription drug abuse and debate on making a decongestant sometimes used in meth production prescription only dominated Tuesday's meeting of the Kanawha County Substance Abuse Task Force.

Members said they hope to have recommendations on these two topics completed by Thanksgiving.

David Potters, executive director of the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, discussed the Controlled Substance Monitoring Program and where people are most likely to get prescription pills for non-medical purposes.

The monitoring program, according to a handout, has collected information since 2004 and went through a system upgrade this year.

Potters said when it comes to prescription pill abuse, doctor shopping is less of a problem than the culture of sharing.

"We hear so much about doctor shopping, rogue patients, rogue doctors but the pie chart shows that 54.2 percent of prescription drugs are given from a friend or relative for free," Potters said, noting 16.6 percent are bought or stolen from a friend or family member.

According to the graph, which tracked pain reliever abuse for 2011, 1.9 percent of drugs were received from more than one doctor.

Potters said the top two drugs in West Virginia are hydrocodone, a powerful painkiller, and alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication.

He said the advisory committee recommended to the board of pharmacy to make pseudoephedrine available by prescription only, make Tramadol, which he explained is an opioid antagonist, scheduled or tracked as a drug of concern, and track mothers for treatment of newborns and breastfed babies.

The debate on making pseudoephedrine prescription only extended to the rest of the meeting. Carlos Guitierrez, a government relations representative for the Consumer Products Healthcare Association, said making the drug prescription only is not the silver bullet to the state's meth problem.

Guitierrez argued pseudoephedrine is not addictive and is not heavily abused. He said 70 percent of meth produced in Mexico and later seized by agents in the U.S. does not contain pseudoephedrine.

He also took issue with Oregon's prescription-only law, saying surrounding states have experienced significant decreases in meth labs but only Oregon requires a prescription. Guitierrez said meth deaths in Oregon are at an all-time high.

He argued if it were only about pseudoephedrine sales, then the biggest markets in New York, Florida and Texas would lead the nation in meth labs. He said this is not the case.

However, Billy Hewes, mayor of Gulfport, Miss., said the state's prescription-only law has decreased the amount of meth labs.

Hewes said it had an immediate effect, dropping the amount by more than half in the last two years. 

"We didn't have a lot of pushback," he said. "There were a few folks who grouched about it. There were enough alternative drugs for allergies; they may have switched off or got prescriptions."

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at



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