The Debate On Pseudoephedrine

A number of state legislators and a group of local mayors in Indiana are pushing to require a prescription for medications that contain the decongestant pseudoephedrine – the one necessary component to manufacture methamphetamine.

But the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America opposes radical “prescription-only” laws that severely restrict patient access to many of the safe and effective allergy medications that families in Indiana rely on every day.

According to Bill McLin, the foundation’s president and CEO, “Meth is a terrible illegal substance that can have a tragic impact on individuals, families and communities. All sides of this debate are committed to winning the war on meth, and we believe that a prescription requirement for allergy medications that don’t currently need a prescription is the wrong approach and would impose significant burdens on patients and families.”

In fact, according to the AAFA’s 2010 National Pseudoephedrine Awareness Study, a majority of patients (71 percent) oppose laws that would require a doctor’s prescription for OTC medicines containing PSE. Patients responding to the survey made their concerns clear that a prescription-only mandate would create an undue burden on law-abiding patients and significantly increase the cost of their healthcare. Patients in the survey prefer to use an electronic tracking system to catch criminals directly, like the system Indiana began implementing 12 months ago.

Since its founding in 1953, AAFA has been dedicated to serving the more than 60 million Americans with asthma, allergies and related diseases. In addition, there are over one billion colds in the United States each year, and colds are the most common reason that parents miss work. Plus, up to 60 million Americans suffer from the flu each year.

For many of these patients, PSE-containing medications are the only oral decongestants that work, and PSE is the only decongestant available for 12- and 24-hour relief. Without timely access to these medicines, some patients may experience serious health consequences, according to the AAFA.

Prescription-only laws would place a significant economic burden on responsible Hoosiers, so says the AAFA, adding that patients would have to make appointments and visit a physician when they desire certain medications that are now available without a prescription. In some cases, they would have to take time off from work, visit a doctor and drive to the pharmacy. These additional steps add up to additional co-pays, increased fuel costs and the potential for lost wages at work.

Meth abuse is a serious health and law enforcement issue, but it simply does not make sense to punish legitimate patients with unnecessary and costly trips to the doctor’s office, according to the AAFA. Indiana’s newly implemented electronic tracking, or e-tracking, solution supports law enforcement in the fight against meth without restricting an individual’s freedom to purchase medications they need, when they need them. Though deployment to pharmacies and retail stores is still underway, e-tracking has already proven that it works in Indiana and blocks illegal sales, according to the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.

In accordance with Indiana’s tracking system, to buy medications that contain pseudoephedrine, Hoosiers must show identification. Their personal information is then stored in a database and they are limited to how much they can purchase. Individuals may buy 3.6 grams a day and no more than 7.2 grams in any 30-day period.

But according to Warsaw Police Det. Paul Heaton the tracking system implemented in January 2012 is not working. “It’s not stopping (meth production) and it’s not slowing it down,” Heaton says. That is because meth cooks have found ways around the system.

Heaton says meth manufacturers get around the tracking system by employing “smurfs.” Smurfs are individuals who will purchase the pseudoephedrine for meth cooks in exchange for drugs or money. Purchasing the drug for illegal use, however, is a class D felony.

Some law enforcement officers in Indiana believe the only way to get serious about curbing meth production is to make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug. Oregon and Mississippi are two state which have required prescriptions and have reported dramatic results in decreased meth labs. A similar proposal in Indiana, however, has not yet gained full support of lawmakers.

Indiana Rep. Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse writes, “The use of methamphetamines is killing our communities. I have introduced a house bill again this year to make ephedrine and psuedoephedrine a scheduled drug. Billions of tax dollars are being spent, families lives are being ruined and our jails are overcrowded due to this epidemic. The current tracking system is telling us what we already know. We don’t want to track meth labs, we want to eliminate them.”

Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer is also engaged in the effort to curb meth manufacturing in the community. In 2012 he asked all local pharmacies to voluntarily stop selling pseudophedrine. Only Zale Drugs and The Pill Box voluntarily suspended those sales.

Thallemer also penned a letter to local hoteliers on Nov. 8, 2012, noting meth production “is a community issue that everyone must address.” The mayor urged hoteliers to be diligent in identifying and preventing meth labs in their establishments.

AAFA, however, will continue to urge Indiana lawmakers in the General Assembly and in local governments to reject restrictions that will make it difficult, expensive, and inconvenient for patients to get the medications they need.

Indiana State Police have not yet released data for 2012 indicating Indiana counties that saw the greatest number of methamphetamine lab seizures last year. In 2010, however, Kosciusko County was second highest in Indiana with 85 labs seized. Last year, the county was third with 58 labs.



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