Pubdate: Thu, 01 Jul 2010
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2010 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Gary Pettus


Prescriptions Required To Fight Meth Use

Starting today, sinus and allergy sufferer Joan Blanks of Pearl won't 
be able to buy her favorite antidotes without a doctor's blessing.

"But, praise the Lord, I've been able to get prescriptions written, 
and they're good for a year," said Blanks, 79.

This day marks the arrival of new restrictions on buying drugs 
containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, an essential ingredient for 
making crystal methamphetamine, an illegal, addictive drug experts 
say destroys families.

In February, state lawmakers voted to make Mississippi the only state 
other than Oregon to classify legal drugs linked to meth as Schedule 
III controlled substances, such as formerly over-the-counter sinus 
and allergy remedies Sudafed, Claritin and Zyrtec.

That means they are available by prescription only.

"I would just about bet the family farm that this time next year we 
will be a-hooping and a-hollering and celebrating that we did 
something good for this state," said state Rep. Forrest Hamilton, 
R-Olive Branch.

Schedule III drugs may have five refills in six months and be ordered 
orally, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"I've been told this law will really help," Blanks said. "Still, it 
seems unfair to those who don't break the law that we have to be 
inconvenienced for those who do.

"But that's life, I guess."

Bobby Marshall, 43, of Poplarville, a Sudafed fan and paramedic, 
spurns the law.

"As a paramedic, I see a large percentage of calls due to 
prescription-drug abuse - painkillers. People are going to find a way 
to get it."

Andy Fish, who represents over-the-counter drug manufacturers, said 
the law will "only push meth cooks further underground."

It will allow them to "move from doctor to doctor ... to legally 
amass large amounts of pseudoephedrine for making methamphetamine," 
said Fish, senior vice president of Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Favoring an electronic tracking system instead, Fish said the 
prescription mandate will place "an unnecessary burden on consumers."

While the requirement may rankle those who depend on the medications 
to relieve irritated eyes and noses, officials like Hamilton are 
itching to usher in the new law.

It got to the point where I almost resented someone coming in and 
buying Sudafed," said Hamilton, who is also a pharmacist.

Buyers included meth makers who avoided sales restrictions on Sudafed 
and its ilk by making several small purchases at multiple stores.

"It has been so easy to go into a lot of pharmacies within a two-mile 
span in the morning and have meth that afternoon," said Ryan Harper, 
a Brandon pharmacist.

The law will put a crimp in this practice called "smurfing," thereby 
potentially curb meth production and addiction, Hamilton said.

"People say, 'What about Aunt Mary? She has to have her Sudafed.'

"Well, what about Susie Q down the road, who has all those children 
and is dying of crystal meth?"

The prescription restriction should make the state cleaner and safer, 
said Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi Bureau of 
Narcotics, who was honored in May at a national meth conference in 
San Diego for his support of the law.

Meth labs, where the drug is made or "cooked," leave behind a residue 
of health hazards practically impossible to eradicate, he said.

Highly volatile, these sites are exploding - physically and numerically.

"I know of a number of children who have been killed or maimed when a 
meth lab exploded," said Cathy Dixon, a psychologist and consultant 
on the topic of meth abuse.

"Parents are worthless when they're cooking meth."

Judge William Skinner, who sees some of these parents in the Hinds 
County felony drug program, said he has one regret about the law: "It 
didn't take effect sooner.

"If you don't believe we need it, sit in my courtroom and hear these 
cases where parents sexually abuse their 3- and 4-year-old children.

"I know of no other drug that does that to people."

Its strength is felt in Rankin and Madison counties, said Michael 
Guest, District Attorney.

"In the past 12 months or so, we've seen a significant increase in 
the number of methamphetamine labs, probably more so in Rankin.

"If we have half the success Oregon had, I'll consider our law to be 
hugely successful."

Oregon, which passed a similar measure in 2006, saw the number of 
meth lab incidents drop from about 189 to 10 from 2005 through 2009.

So far this year, the MBN has discovered more than 500 meth labs in 
this state, compared to 639 for all of 2009.

Meth hot spots, he said, include Harrison and Jackson counties on the 
Gulf Coast, and Rankin and Warren counties in central Mississippi.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd, whose territory abuts the Alabama 
state line, knows meth lab operators can cross the border to buy 
Sudafed with no prescription.

"But they will have to show identification, and the purchase will be 
recorded on a computer (database) that will be sent to us," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart