Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jul 2012
Source: Spartanburg Herald Journal (SC)
Copyright: 2012 The Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Author: Lynne P. Shackleford


Lawmakers Urged to Make Ingredients Prescription Only

Drug control experts and prosecutors are calling for federal 
lawmakers to require prescriptions for medications containing 
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to help stop the "meth epidemic."

The number of methamphetamine cases are up nationwide -- specifically 
in South Carolina -- despite federal purchasing restrictions on cold 
medicines containing ephedrine and psuedoephedrine, which also are 
used to make meth. Prior to 1976, medications containing ephedrine 
and pseudoephedrine were available only by prescription.

The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 limits an 
individual's ability to buy more than 3.6 grams of ephedrine and 
pseudoephedrine daily and nine grams per month. The law also requires 
retailers to keep records on who buys those products, and police have 
access to those records.

But a S.C. Law Enforcement Division narcotics expert says law 
enforcement has tracked only about 10 percent of meth manufacturers 
using the system since individuals use fake identification and employ 
others to buy the maximum daily and monthly limits of the drug.

A panel of law enforcement narcotics and drug control experts -- 
including Max Dorsey, a SLED narcotics specialist -- and prosecutors 
testified before a congressional subcommittee last week to determine 
whether requiring prescriptions for medications containing ephedrine 
and pseudophedrine would stop the "meth epidemic."

This year through June, there have been 60 meth lab seizures in 
Spartanburg County, 23 in Cherokee County, 81 in Greenville County 
and none in Union County. There have been more meth lab busts in the 
Upstate than all other areas of the state combined.

According to SLED, South Carolina is now one of the top 10 meth 
manufacturing sites in the nation.

The U.S. House Oversight Subcommittee on Healthcare, District of 
Columbia, Census and National Archives, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, 
R-Spartanburg, conducts hearings on various topics, including 
increasing the availability of generic oncology medications for 
pediatric patients, raising the building height limit in the nation's 
capital, and how to stop the increasing meth problem -- a highly 
toxic and addictive drug that is at the epicenter of America's drug problem.

Following the subcommittee hearing, Gowdy said he wasn't sure whether 
requiring prescriptions for drugs containing ephedrine and 
pseudoephedrine was the best approach. He, however, said he would 
conduct additional hearings, including "field hearings" in South 
Carolina where local law enforcement, doctors, pharmaceutical 
companies and those who use the medications for allergies and cold 
symptoms could have their say. Gowdy said he likely will schedule 
Upstate field hearings in the next 90 days.

"We have to strike a balance between less government where it's 
appropriate, and I think most people, if they think that scheduling 
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine would make it safer for law enforcement 
to do their jobs, would understand the inconvenience, but the case 
has to be made," Gowdy said. "But, on the other hand, you need sugar 
and water to make moonshine and nobody is trying to outlaw those. You 
need baking soda to make crack cocaine and you can go to virtually 
any store in America and find baking soda. You need pen and paper to 
make bank notes. I realize some of those are pretty absurd examples, 
but you have to take all of that into consideration."

And, Gowdy said, he wants to be cautious in limiting access to 
medications that "99 percent" of people use correctly because the 
other "one percent that refuses to follow the rules."

Gowdy said he would prefer states to determine whether to make the 
medications available by prescription only, but there are federal 
schedules or categories for various drugs. Two states, Oregon and 
Mississippi, now require prescriptions for products containing 
pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.

Last week's panel was the first subcommittee hearing held on 
methamphetamine in more than 20 years, said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., 
who also serves on the subcommittee.

The nation's "Drug Czar," Gil Kerlikowske, was among the panelists 
who asked the subcommittee to continue hearings and consider "putting 
the genie back in the bottle" by rescheduling ephedrine and 
pseudoephedrine, and making medications containing those ingredients 
available by prescription only. In the past decade, communities have 
seen dramatic spikes in meth production, which uses those two key ingredients.

Recently, Oregon and Mississippi have made the medications available 
only by prescription, and both states have seen a sharp decline in 
the number of meth cases.

In 2006, Oregon required a prescription for ephedrine and 
pseudoephedrine, and the number of meth cases dropped from 190 in 
2005 to 11 in 2011, said Kerlikowske, director of the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy.

Mississippi passed the law requiring prescriptions in 2010.

Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, 
said there were 252 meth lab busts in Mississippi from January to 
June 2010. In the same period so far this year, there have been 17 
meth lab seizures -- a 93 percent reduction.

"This is an epidemic we can do something about," Fisher said. "We can 
control this and free up law enforcement to deal with other issues; 
and making them prescription only is the only legitimate choice."

In Oregon and Mississippi, there was little push-back from patients, 
and the medications are schedule III drugs, which can be called in by 
a physician without a doctor's appointment, said Rob Bovett, Oregon's 
district attorney who helped craft the scheduling law. Pharmaceutical 
companies, however, have fought against the new restrictions.

SLED Lt. Max Dorsey II is a supervisory special agent for the 
narcotics section of the state grand jury and is SLED's clandestine 
laboratory coordinator, which includes the management of the drug lab 
clean-up program.

Dorsey, who testified during the panel, said those who make meth in 
home and car labs, which are extremely toxic and might ignite or 
explode if mixed or stored improperly, have found ways to circumvent 
the current law through "smurfing." Smurfing is when people are paid 
to purchase the maximum daily and monthly limits of ephedrine and 
pseudophedrine products to manufacture meth.

In the first year of using the tracking system, there was an increase 
in the number of discovered labs and the system hasn't been effective 
in helping law enforcement track meth manufacturers, Dorsey said.

Since February 2012, the system only tracked about 10 percent of meth 
lab seizures in South Carolina, he said.

About 15 percent of the state's population buys products using 
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, Dorsey said.

Dorsey supports federal prescription requirements for products 
containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, saying Oregon and 
Mississippi "bear witness as to how domestic meth manufacturing can 
be virtually eliminated."

"If you're serious about combating the meth problem, return ephedrine 
and pseudoephedrine to prescription only," Dorsey said. "Oregon and 
Mississippi have seen the success as the number of cases plummeted in 
those states."

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said he is pleased the 
subcommittee is tackling the issue because meth labs pose very 
dangerous risks to the community and police officers. Wright said the 
number of meth labs in this area is higher since it's a rural area. 
He also said police are committed to fighting the epidemic.

"Task force is not some fancy name for something we just throw money 
at," Wright said. "It's a team of people who work with other 
departments and go in and work these cases day after day, and the 
numbers show that."

Wright said the criminal justice system, which gives more prison time 
for someone convicted of stealing money than selling crack cocaine, 
is also to blame.

"If you have someone who steals money and they get four, five or six 
years and someone who, for the third, fourth or fifth time, is 
convicted of possessing crack cocaine or meth and they get a year, 
that's backwards to me," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom