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.