Editorial: Prescription-only pseudoephedrine?

Dec. 04, 2013 @ 11:20 PM

Last month, during his budget presentation to Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said Tennessee was on its way to becoming the home of more methamphetamine labs than any other state.

Gwyn said that limiting the availability of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to make meth, is the only way to stop the production of the highly addictive drug.

There is no doubt that making pseudoephedrine, commonly known by the brand name Sudafed, a prescription drug would — at least initially — make it harder for meth cooks to get their ingredients.

But it also makes it more difficult for regular users of the perfectly legitimate medicine to get it.

Many already admit to feeling like criminals when they approach the pharmacist’s counter to request the drug, which is routinely used for treatment of nasal and sinus congestion. 

Just a few years ago, Tennessee, along with 34 other states, made is necessary for pseudoephedrine purchases to be entered into a national database — the National Precursor Log Exchange. At the time it was argued the move would stop meth production in its tracks.

Apparently, it hasn’t worked.

So now, some in the state are pushing to make the drug a prescription-only item, which would likely require regular doctor visits to maintain the legitimate use of the currently legal over-the-counter drug.

While the change may work in the short term, lawbreakers will continue to find ways to get pseudoephedrine — as they have since the precursor database started.

Whether it comes from Mexico, or simply from across state lines, if addicts want something bad enough, they’ll get it — despite the inconvenience — which, by the way, is also passed on to the everyday consumer.

Given the problems Tennessee already has with prescription drug abuse, what should make us think that simply making Sudafed prescription-only will curb a problem? Some may point to reports that Oregon — where “meth lab incidents” have fallen significantly since pseudoephedrine was made prescription-only. 

But, even with the significant decrease in labs, methamphetamine-related deaths in Oregon jumped 22 percent in 2010, according to the Oregonian newspaper — the most in a single year over the last decade.

Users were getting their drug of choice through other methods.

Perhaps more energy should be spent on arresting those who break already existing laws — the makers, the sellers and the users of meth — and making their punishments stick.