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Bridget Lambert: Effective solutions to war against meth

WITH another legislative session underway in Charleston, lawmakers are considering legislation aimed at tackling our state's methamphetamine problem.

Some are pushing for a new law that would require a doctor's prescription for certain cold and allergy medicines that contain the decongestant pseudoephedrine (PSE).

There's no question that meth production and use are a problem in the state, but we must remember that most of those purchasing these PSEbased products (Advil Cold & Sinus, Allegra-D, Claritin-D, Sudafed, etc.) are law-abiding citizens who are simply trying to ease the symptoms associated with the common cold or allergies.

The Other Side: Pseudoephedrine's benefits are not worth its harm

While we applaud Legislative leaders for addressing the meth problem, the West Virginia Retailers Association believes that a prescription requirement is not a sound solution.

If a prescription law is mandated by the Legislature, consider this: 

 Consumers will need to take time off work, visit the doctor, pay a co-pay, and then obtain their PSE products from the pharmacy. 

 The National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) - the program instituted just one year ago in West Virginia to track and block illicit pseudoephedrine purchases - blocked the sale of more than 17,000 boxes last year, and state law enforcement representatives are starting to utilize the program to their advantage. 

 The West Virginia Retailers Association, in partnership with the W.Va. Sheriffs Association, W. Va. Municipal League and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, recently hosted law enforcement training sessions around the state to acclimate police officers and narcotics agents with the NPLEx system.

In an effort to make prescription- only legislation more palatable to the Legislature, authors of this year's legislation, Senate Bill 6, have included an exemption for certain products that contain PSE that purportedly cannot be converted into meth.

Federal law allows for "meth proof" products to obtain a Drug Enforcement Agency exemption. To date, the DEA has not given any medication containing PSE an exemption.

In addition to the numerous costs and burdens associated with a prescription requirement, lawmakers must also consider whether such an approach would actually be effective in addressing the underlying problem.

To that end, it's important to remember that the number one substance abuse problem in West Virginia is prescription drugs. A prescription requirement for controlled substances hasn't stopped criminals from diverting or abusing those very substances.

How effective will a prescription requirement be in stopping criminals from obtaining PSE? One also shouldn't overlook the fact that 80 percent of American meth comes from Mexico, according to the DEA.

The meth problem in West Virginia is a complicated one that should be addressed comprehensively and with specific attention given to criminals - not lawabiding citizens. Legislators this session should consider: 

 Prohibiting individuals convicted of a meth-related crime from purchasing PSE products, track those individuals through a meth offender registry, and block them from future purchase attempts via the NPLEx system. 

 Developing a meth offender registry. The state of Tennessee spent an estimated $90,000 for their Registry which is working to block meth offenders from purchasing PSE. This is far less than the $700,000 or more spent by the W.Va. Crime Victims Fund on meth lab cleanup in 2013. 

 Adopting criminal meth-related penalties for those convicted of "smurfing" - purchasing pseudoephedrine products for someone to use in the manufacture of meth. 

 Establish a meth-lab container program at the state level; similar to what is being done in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Ohio and other states. This will significantly reduce the cost of meth lab cleanup and make the state eligible for federal cleanup dollars.

No matter where you stand on this important debate, we all agree that something must be done to crack down on meth production and abuse in our communities. West Virginia's retail pharmacies are on the front lines in the battle against meth every single day and we're committed to helping find solutions to these problems that don't make life more difficult for responsible consumers.

Recent news reports citing NPLEx data state that a significant number of residents - more than 160,000 West Virginians - purchased PSE products in 2013.

Let's address the true problem - addiction and criminal activity - and not place additional burdens on law abiding West Virginia consumers.

Bridget Lambert is president of the West Virginia Retailers Association.


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