Meth battle

State lawmakers should look again at making a drug essential to methamphetamine production even harder to buy.

A recent Journal-World story explored the explosion of methamphetamine use in four rural counties in southeast Kansas. Law enforcement officials attribute the rise in meth use to new, easier ways to make the drug, known as the “one-pot” or “shake and bake” method.

Doctors, pharmacists, law enforcement and drug treatment providers in the region say there’s only one way to keep meth out of their communities: make pseudoephedrine, which is needed in any meth-making process, a prescription-only drug. While Kansans don’t need a prescription for products containing pseudoephedrine, such as Claritin and Sudafed, a 2005 state law keeps those drugs behind the counter and restricts the amount someone can buy.

A measure to make pseudoephedrine-containing products prescription-only was considered during the 2011 legislative session, but failed to make it out of committee. In the current session, the measure didn’t receive a hearing.

The pharmaceutical industry opposes such a law, probably because it would reduce sales. Allergy sufferers and some in the health care field oppose the law because it would make medications more difficult and expensive to obtain for legitimate medical needs. The reaction from the pharmacy industry is mixed. Pharmacies don’t reap a lot of revenue from pseudoephedrine-containing products, but some oppose such a law because it might decrease access for low-income customers.

Those are legitimate concerns, but according to officials in southeast Kansas, they pale by comparison to the social and economic toll meth takes on cash-strapped communities. They point to Oregon, one of only two states that has made pseudoephedrine prescription-only. The Oregon law went into effect in 2006. In 2005, Oregon reported 192 meth lab incidents — on par with the 2011 Kansas tally of 187. In 2011, Oregon law enforcement reported just nine such incidents.

That decline is even more impressive considering the recent rise in meth lab incidents in Kansas and elsewhere after years of decline. The ease of producing meth using the one-pot method has only surfaced in the last couple of years, and officials in southeast Kansas warn it’s only a matter of time before other parts of the state see a rise in meth production.

This matter deserves the state’s attention. It’s probably too late to take action during the current legislative session, but before next year, legislators should take a look at what other states are doing to curb meth production and reconsider the idea of making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug.