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Pseudoephedrine prescription mandate will not solve meth problem

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Troy Andes Troy Andes
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Troy Andes, R-Putnam, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2006. Contact him at 304-340-3121.

If there's one thing we can glean from recent media coverage on the subject, it's that West Virginia has a meth problem. While this isn't new information, it seems that the success of our hard-working law enforcement community has again brought the issue to the forefront of policy discussions. Recent reports indicate that police are finding a greater number of meth labs this year — a fact that has drawn the ire of local legislators and newspaper editors alike. This has caused a few people in our community to cry out for new anti-drug laws and stricter penalties for meth abusers. Some have even proposed passing a prescription mandate for all cold and allergy medicine containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), an ingredient sometimes used in the manufacture of meth. But before legislators pass extreme restrictions on common cold medicine, it is important to look at the consequences of such a policy. If we lay out the facts, it becomes clear that a prescription mandate for pseudoephedrine will not solve West Virginia's meth problem. Instead it will penalize all law-abiding families who rely on affordable and convenient medicines to treat their colds and allergies.

As a state legislator, I am no stranger to our area's illegal drug problem. I have seen meth abuse spread across the state and more recently have witnessed the increase in prescription drug and heroin abuse in nearly every community. The state Legislature has fought to try to curb the abuse of these narcotics — implementing legislation that attempts to restrict their supply. The National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) is one tool we've employed in order to stop illegal sales of pseudoephedrine, thus preventing its illegal diversion into meth. Since the program was implemented in January, it has already blocked the illegal sale of thousands of boxes of pseudoephedrine. The success of this system clearly indicates that some policies have proven more effective than others, but what is evident is that none have been able to truly turn the tide in the seemingly endless war on drugs. 

Yet now, the public is being told there's a "silver bullet" in the fight against meth. Claims have been made that a prescription mandate for popular cold and allergy medicine will eliminate the costs to West Virginians associated with meth abuse. Opponents of affordable medication even go so far as to say it will eradicate meth from our communities. While I'm certainly an optimist, I also recognize when something is too good to be true. 

Forcing honest West Virginians to see a doctor in order to get the cold and allergy medicine they rely on will not solve our state's meth problem. How could it? Prescription mandates have done nothing to prevent other forms of prescription drug abuse, which by all accounts are a much bigger problem throughout West Virginia. Moreover, penalizing law-abiding families will not prevent criminals from purchasing meth from local dealers who are often supplied by vast drug networks linked to Mexican cartels. Simply put, West Virginia's meth problem will persist — we'll still have to pay to put meth criminals in jail, we'll still have to pay to treat them for drug addiction, and we'll still have to take care of their children when they are deemed unfit to be parents. Claiming that a prescription mandate will solve these problems ignores the reality of this very complex problem.

Moreover, a prescription mandate will place a large and unfair burden on the honest, law-abiding West Virginians who rely on affordable treatment options. At a time when health care costs are through the roof and our entire health care system is up in arms, proponents of a prescription mandate want to force families to visit their doctor or visit the emergency room for basic cold and allergy medicine. 

The fight to eradicate meth from West Virginia is a noble pursuit. Elected officials and law enforcement should continue to focus their efforts on finding solutions to this terrible social ill. Mandating costly prescriptions for common cold and allergy medicine containing pseudoephedrine, however, is not the right step. We need to have an honest dialogue regarding the complexities of this problem and come up with innovative solutions that address the real source. Otherwise we can expect meth, and all its associated costs, to stick around.