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Archive for Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Attack on meth

It’s too bad that a bill to monitor sales of some cold and allergy medicines will be inconvenient, but attacking methamphetamine labs in the state must be a priority.

February 2, 2005

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A bill that could have a significant impact on the state's battle against methamphetamine manufacturing shouldn't be allowed to bog down in the Kansas Legislature.

The bill would permit only pharmacies to sell medications that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, a common nonprescription cold and allergy remedy but also a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Such over-the-counter medications as Sudafed currently can be sold in convenience stores or other stores without pharmacies. Under the new law, anyone buying ephedrine or pseudoephedrine also would have to show identification and sign a log. The goal is to prevent large purchases of the substances, as required for manufacturing meth.

A similar measure has drastically reduced the amount of meth manufactured in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, some of those meth producers appear to have migrated into Kansas to avoid detection. Meth manufacturers have thrived in Kansas for long enough. The dangers of allowing this situation to continue were vividly illustrated a couple of weeks ago when Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels was shot to death when he attempted to execute a search warrant at a house containing all the makings of a meth lab.

Such labs are scattered throughout the state creating not only a law enforcement problem but feeding an addiction that destroys many lives. Cutting off easy access to one of the key ingredients of meth may be inconvenient for some, but that inconvenience pales by comparison to the need to attack this problem.

According to one of its sponsors, Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, the bill was narrowly written to make only the tablet form of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- the form of choice for meth makers -- a Section V controlled substance. Liquid and gelcap medications wouldn't be affected. This seems to offset the concern voiced by Sen. Kay O'Connor of Olathe that asthma sufferers in dire need of the medications wouldn't be able to buy them in areas that didn't have 24-hour pharmacies.

Some proponents also would like to see a pre-emption clause in the bill making it impossible for cities or other municipalities to opt out of the measure. Such a provision might be desirable, Schmidt said, but it likely would increase opposition to the bill. What the bill's sponsors -- a bipartisan group of 23 senators -- want is to pass a narrowly focused bill that, while it may not shut down meth production, will have a meaningful impact on the problem.

Schmidt blames large chain pharmacies for raising most of what he called the "chafe" issues to try to cloud the intention of the bill and derail its passage. Large pharmacies that carry hundreds of medicines that contain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine will have to adjust the way they do business, but he points out that they have made the necessary adjustments in Oklahoma. He also noted that many large pharmacies are voluntarily regulating the sale of the drugs in recognition of their connection to meth production.

It's unfortunate that some pharmacies and consumers will be inconvenienced by placing controls on these cold medications, but the proliferation of meth labs has made this a prudent law enforcement step for the state. Legislators should look past the side issues and make the necessary compromises to get this measure passed.

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