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Prescriptions for Some Cold Medicines Could Stop Meth

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Sudafed, AdvilThe easiest way to stop meth use would be to make a key ingredient available only by prescription, according to Rob Bovett, a district attorney from Oregon.

According to Bovett, Oregon nearly wiped out its meth labs after the passage of legislation he authored that made pseudoephedrine available only by prescription. Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant available in some cold medicines like Sudafed 12 Hour, Aleve D and Advil Cold and Sinus. It’s also an ingredient in methamphetamine.

In an editorial published in The New York Times Nov. 15, Bovett laid out his reasoning. First, meth is still a problem in many states, despite a 2006 federal law that limited the amount of cold medicines with pseudoephedrine that customers could buy at any one time. To get around this, meth-makers simply began buying smaller quantities of cold medicines in different locations.

To solve the problem, pharmaceutical manufacturers want to have sales tracked electronically, and are lobbying Congress to require this nationwide.

That strategy, according to Bovett, hasn’t been effective. For example, Kentucky began tracking meth sales electronically in 2008, but the number of meth labs hasn’t changed significantly and meth-lab incidents have actually risen by 40 percent.

Mississippi, on the other hand, followed Oregon’s lead and began requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine in July 2010. Since then, the number of meth labs has dropped 65 percent.

In 2009, Mexico — the source, Bovett said, of most meth in the United States — stopped just short of outlawing pseudoephedrine, and as a result, the “potency of meth from Mexico has since plummeted.”

For these reasons, Bovett thinks the U.S. should enact a national law making the drug available only by prescription. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has already drafted a bill that would do just that.

There’s only one problem: the pharmaceutical industry. Bovett did not say so directly, but he laid out the math, citing industry sources. Americans don’t need much decongestant — each one of the 15 million Americans who buys products with pseudoephedrine in them spends about $10 or $20 a year. In other words, legitimate sales of cold medicines with pseudoephedrine in them bring in about $30 million a year for drug manufacturers.

Yet Bovett cites industry figures showing that those U.S. sales of those same products bring in almost $600 million a year. What accounts for the difference?

If it’s meth, Bovett could be right: prescriptions for pseudoephedrine might be just what the doctor ordered.

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