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Editorial: Chain’s decision on selling drug used for meth may not be enough

Nov. 04, 2013 @ 11:51 PM

A decision by Rite Aid pharmacies in West Virginia to stop selling cold medications that have only pseudoephedrine as their active ingredient has received mixed reviews.

But in the short term, it’s at least a small step forward in efforts to reduce the illegal production of methamphetamine, which is highly addictive to its users and poses serious hazards to anyone else in the vicinity of meth-making labs.

The decision by Rite Aid applies to a few products that are sought out by people because they only contain pseudoephedrine and thus are easier to use in making potent methamphetamine. Rite-Aid stores will continue to sell medications that contain both pseudoephedrine and other active ingredients such as antihistamines and pain relievers, which typically aren’t in such high demand for illegal meth production.

Rite Aid’s decision came after a recent report by The Charleston Gazette showing that some of its stores were among the state’s top sellers of products that contain pseudoephedrine. A Rite-Aid spokeswoman said the company was committed to doing its part to combat methamphetamine production.

Jason Grellner, vice president of the National Narcotics Officers Association, told The Gazette that Rite-Aid should be commended. “This is a huge stride forward for a chain store to get rid of sole-ingredient products,” he said. “It will mean a lot less criminals will be going to Rite Aids.”

Others weren’t so complimentary, noting that other chain store pharmacies such as Walmart and CVS continue to sell the products, meaning they remain available in most areas of the state. Also noted was that Rite Aid still sells other products containing pseudoephedrine.

Some also wondered whether Rite Aid’s motivation was trying to head off planned legislative efforts during the winter to make products containing pseudoephedrine available only by prescription — a move that over-the-counter drug manufacturers already are lobbying against.

Last year, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that allowed the state’s participation in a tracking system called NPLEx, which required all pharmacies in the state to report sales of pseudoephedrine products. The system halts the sale of pseudoephedrine to people who exceed set monthly and annual limits. The drug industry contended the tracking system would curtail the number of meth labs, but that hasn’t happened. Police agencies have seized nearly 400 meth labs so far this year, while only 288 were seized in all of 2012.

NPLEx isn’t the remedy many had hoped for.

If other pharmacy chains make the same move as Rite-Aid, perhaps the prevalence of illegal meth labs would drop significantly. But short of such a widespread buy-in by the those selling pseudoephedrine products, mandating prescription-only sales may be the only way to crimp methamphetamine production. The two other states that require prescriptions have seen sharp declines in meth-lab seizures. That’s the kind of results that West Virginia must pursue.
 

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