Tom Miller: Debate over meth-making ingredient likely to heat up again
Battle lines are now being drawn on both sides of the growing controversy about potential tougher laws and regulations in West Virginia that would affect the purchase of pseudoephedrine in pharmacies since this drug is the main ingredient used to produce methamphetamine.
The West Virginia Legislature recently passed a law that requires pharmacies to keep all products that contain pseudoephedrine behind the counter. This way, those who purchase the products must provide identification and each purchase is tracked through a computer-based system. And earlier this year, West Virginia joined 29 other states in tracking pseudoephedrine sales through the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx).
While some officials question the effectiveness of this new system, figures indicate that West Virginia law enforcement officers have already busted more meth labs this year than in all of 2012. More than 100 were found in Kanawha County alone, according to West Virginia State Police records.
Pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in nasal decongestants and is available in pill or liquid form. There are more than a dozen brand names including Sudafed, Claritin-D and Zyrtec-D as well as more than 50 generic versions. And while it is possible to make methamphetamine without pseudoephedrine, it is far more difficult.
U. S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va, who was back in the state during the congressional recess last week, visited a Charleston branch of Fruth Pharmacy with company president Lynn Fruth to learn more about Nexafed, a medication that contains pseudoephedrine but is more difficult to use in producing meth.
If the use of methamphetamine continues to climb in West Virginia, Rep. Capito believes the state legislature should consider passage of a new law to require a prescription to purchase products with meth's main ingredient -- pseudoephedrine. And the Lewisburg City Council last month passed a resolution that requests state lawmakers pass a bill to require a doctor's prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine
But the pharmaceutical companies and others are opposed to requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine sales. These opponents claim it would mean extra trips to the doctor, adding to the cost and inconvenience of buying the product.
Currently, Oregon and Mississippi are the only two states in the country that require prescriptions to purchase pseudoephedrine-based products. And meth lab busts have dropped substantially in those states.
As might be expected, an organization representing over-the-counter drug companies insist making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug will not solve this state's meth problem. Instead, representatives of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association say the state needs to adopt a multi-faceted approach including educating the public about the dangers of meth, handing down harsher punishments to convicted meth makers and also making better use of the state's current pseudoephedrine sales tracking system.
This state's plans to create a so-called legacy fund patterned after the one in North Dakota -- according to State Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) -- should not be that difficult to create now that several state lawmakers and several other representatives of business, industry and labor have checked out a similar program in that state. Just don't expect it overnight.
One of the things learned in last month's visit to North Dakota was that the fund created there took several years to finally pass the Legislature there. And lawmakers in West Virginia seem certain to consider asking state voters here to approve a constitutional amendment just as the North Dakota Legislature did. As a result, lawmakers there can't access any of the Legacy Fund money until 2017 unless it is approved by two-thirds of the Legislature.
Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, was one of the industry representatives making the trip and he pointed out that North Dakota is producing 820,000 barrels of oil a day and taxing it at 11.5 percent. He said there was no way West Virginia could expect the same kind of money that North Dakota is making.
But Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, said he likes the fact that the legislature in North Dakota put the Legacy Fund proposal in the state constitution, which prevents lawmakers there from easily changing the laws governing that fund. This would definitely need to be part of West Virginia's approach as well.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and members of his staff had estimated originally that the state might need to provide as much as $1.6 million in resources to make sure the 10-day national Boy Scouts Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family Scout Reserve near Beckley was an acknowledged success. The actual cost so far to the state has been only $413,289.77, about $1.2 million less than expected.
There is still an outstanding cost of overtime pay for 36 state police officers from four states, but still the local contribution figures to be far less than expected. And West Virginia taxpayers can rest easy because all of the money spent by the state will be reimbursed. Becky Neal, an executive aide to the governor, said last week that all of the costs to the state will be reimbursed by the Boy Scouts, as is the case with any private event.
Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.
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