Prescription requirement could cost WV $149.4M - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Prescription requirement could cost WV $149.4M

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Serkan Catma, Ph.D., is a professor of economics at West Liberty University.

As we approach the final days of the 2014 legislative session in Charleston, legislators are focused on the issue of domestic methamphetamine production and abuse.

Last year, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) — a trade association that represents the manufacturers of over-the-counter cough, cold and flu medicines and dietary supplements —asked me to conduct an examination of the potential economic impacts of a prescription requirement in West Virginia. 

The House of Delegates is currently considering legislation that recently passed the full state Senate, which would require all citizens to consult with a doctor before buying cold and allergy medicines containing the decongestant pseudoephedrine (PSE). These medicines are currently regulated by both state and federal law to be held behind the pharmacy counter and sold only to consumers with valid government-issued identification. As the law stands in West Virginia, all PSE purchases are tracked by a real-time tracking system — known as the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, which prevents unlawful sales and allows law enforcement to access purchasing data. 

Regardless of your background, I think every concerned West Virginia citizen agrees that something more must be done to address the methamphetamine problem. In conducting this study, my chief goal was to simply assist West Virginia lawmakers in weighing the potential cost implications of the prescription requirement approach. It was not my job, in other words, to make a judgment as to whether a prescription requirement would be the right course of action for West Virginia policymakers. My task was to find out what the cost of the policy would be and to explore how the policy has played out in Oregon and Mississippi. (Oregon and Mississippi are the only two states that have passed prescription-requirement laws.)

Overall, I found that a prescription requirement would lead to significant cost increases across the board. My research estimates that the prescription-only law would lead to an additional 78,817 doctor's office visits every year for upper respiratory infections, which would result in a total cost to West Virginia of $149.4 million over 10 years. 

This substantial cost would be borne out by working families and individuals, the uninsured and the state as a whole. For individual West Virginians — particularly those allergy and frequent cold sufferers who regularly purchase PSE-based medicines for treatment — the proposed policy would potentially result in the need to take time off from work or other obligations to see a doctor and obtain a prescription. It could also mean additional co-pays at the doctor's office and difficulty making doctor's appointments. These additional steps and considerable costs would also produce negative impacts for the broader economy. Specifically, the indirect cost in lost productivity due to missed time from work would equate to $8.3 million per year while the direct cost to households would be $3.7 million per year.

With respect to Oregon and Mississippi, my analysis found that while both states have seen a decline in meth-lab incidents overall, both states continue to struggle with significant levels of meth-related crime. Whether it be identity theft, child neglect, meth distribution or high levels of addiction, law enforcement officials from both states have repeatedly and consistently reported that meth remains a major drug threat despite their respective prescription-requirement laws. The reasons for this are varied and complex, but a logical explanation is the increasingly dominant position of Mexican drug cartels within the American meth market. Indeed, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 80 percent of America's meth is smuggled here from Mexico. 

Ultimately, it is up to West Virginia lawmakers to determine the best path forward in our state's fight against meth. I offer my research in the hope that it may provide guidance in this decision. It is publicly available for all to read, analyze and discuss.