Cold Medicine Prescriptions Have Not Reduced Meth Lab Incidents or Use in Oregon

The production and use of methamphetamine—a highly addictive drug often made with store-bought ingredients—continues to be a serious problem for many states around the country, including Oregon.

Curbing meth’s negative impacts on communities, individuals, and families is an important societal goal; and it is understandable why our state legislators sought to do something about it in 2005.

That year, Oregon adopted a law that included a prescription requirement for what were then over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), such as Advil Cold & Sinus, Claritin-D, and Sudafed. Because PSE is also an ingredient used in the manufacture of meth, the idea behind the prescription requirement was to keep it out of the hands of meth cooks.

The problem is that since 2006, law-abiding Oregonians have had to obtain a prescription to treat minor cold or seasonal allergy symptoms, something consumers in 48 other states don’t have to bother with.

As a result, responsible Oregonians are now forced to take time off work, call a doctor, visit a hospital or clinic, and pick up a prescription—just to buy a box of Mucinex-D. Not only is that a significant hassle for most people, it also leads to higher health care costs, involuntary time away from work for individuals, and lower productivity for Oregon businesses.

Putting aside these considerable burdens, Cascade Policy Institute set out to determine whether the prescription mandate actually has been successful in reducing meth’s impact on the state.

Our study looked at meth trends in Oregon from 2004 to 2010 and compared what was happening here to similar states and the country as a whole. We found that while the number of meth lab related incidents in 2010 is down 97% from 2004, that doesn’t speak to the success of the prescription requirement.

Why not? Because six nearby states that don’t have a prescription requirement, including Washington State and California, experienced similar declines in meth lab incidents. In addition, almost all of Oregon’s 97% drop occurred between 2004 and 2006, before the prescription law even took effect.

The decline in illegal meth manufacturing also has not corresponded to a decline in meth use or availability in Oregon. The sad fact is that the reduction of one source of methamphetamine only leads to the increased availability of the drug from other sources, including Mexican super labs.

Furthermore, a new study by Jane Carlisle Maxwell of the University of Texas at Austin and Mary-Lynn Brecht of the University of California at Los Angeles found that Mexican meth manufacturers (in a country that imposed a ban on pseudoephedrine in 2008) are increasingly using alternative methods to make the drug, including the P2P method, which doesn’t rely on PSE.

In addition, Maxwell and Brecht pointed to findings from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration which indicate that Mexican meth cooks are also “looking to other areas in the world for the required chemicals and the ability of Asian manufacturers who use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to produce large quantities of high quality methamphetamine which may become another source of the drug in the U.S.”

But independent of the new realities in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, Oregon’s own High Intensity Drug Area (HIDTA), reported in September 2011 that meth continues to be “highly available” and remains “the most serious drug threat in Oregon.” Maxwell and HIDTA’s findings are consistent with Cascade’s conclusions.

While legislators who voted for Oregon’s prescription requirement no doubt had good intentions, the bottom line is that it has been ineffective in achieving its intended purpose of significantly reducing meth production and use in the state.

Given that the law has fallen short of its goals, and because responsible Oregonians have been significantly affected by its prescription requirement, it’s time for Oregon lawmakers to revisit the six-year-old-law and, hopefully, repeal it.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 04:30 | Posted in Crime & Sentencing, Economy, Government Regulation, Health & Human Services, Health Care Reform, Oregon Government | Tagged , | 12 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Rupert in Springfield

    This is one of those areas where it would be possible for government to admit it made a mistake, correct it, and move on without it costing a penny.

    To discover instances of this happening in history is akin to the finding of the dead sea scrolls. It happens, but is extremely rare. The only one that springs to my mind in recent memory is Canada’s recent decision to repeal its gun registry.

    The prescription ban is absurd when all one has to do is drive to a neighboring state. It should be repealed, and it wont be. No politician wants to have their name on the nightly news the next time they bust a meth lab.

    • JoelinPDX

      You’re overlooking the main reason this law won’t be repealed…the Democrat majority in the Oregon Senate and the split in the Oregon House. Democrats will never allow a law to be repealed that gives the government control over people’s lives.

      • Ramalama

        Hmmmm. You do realize that it seems to be REPUBLICANS who want to ban contraceptives.

        • Anonymous

          No, you must be thinking about democrats and light bulbs. Or working toilets. Or safe vehicles. Or…

          • Ramalama

            Yes, it’s just terrible that Democrats have pushed for laws that make vehicles safer. 

            Those people who are alive today because of such laws take jobs away from everyone else. How terrible!

  • Dave

    Shortly after the Oregon bill passed, the feds made pharmacies put it behind the counter, required ID, tracking and limited the amount that could be sold.  That is why over the time frame of the study other states also decreased arrests.  Strickly as a pharmacy owner, I would rather deal with Oregon’s law than the paperwork the feds are requiring.  Most people are fine with the alternative product that is available.  If it fails then you have to call your doctor.  The meth problem is very frustrating.  This bill was an attempt at correcting it.  They should triple the number of state police on I-5 if they really want to make a difference.

    • Steve Buckstein

      Dave, thanks for you input as a pharmacy owner. I think you’re correct that putting these drugs behind the counter led to the dramatic decline in meth lab incidents nationwide. But Oregon out them behind the counter starting in 2004 and incidents had gone down about 90% by the time our Rx-only law took effect.

      While pharmacists might prefer Oregon’s law, I think consumers would prefer simply keeping the drugs behind the counter as 48 other states do. This is something that obviously doesn’t have one right answer, so, again, I appreciate your input.

  • 3H

    I think there are two goals here.  One would be the reduction in Meth addiction and use, which seems to wax or wane independent to the law you’re talking about.  The one benefit of the law is, evidently, that there are much fewer Meth factories in Oregon.  Given how toxic those can be, it seems that perhaps that would be sufficient justification to keep the law.  Evidently the law, whether or Federal or State, has resulted in a sharp decline in meth manufactured in Oregon.  That does have benefits for people who might end up living next to a small scale meth factory.

    • Steve Buckstein

       3H, yes, Oregon and all other states saw dramatic declines in meth lab incidents – a good outcome. But 49 other states saw those declines without the further inconvenience and imposition of prescription costs that Oregon placed on consumers. 

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