August 18, 2008

In Our View: Solutions to Meth

Does Washington state need more restrictive sales of cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine?

Mexico now requires a prescription to buy such medicines. Oregon and a majority of states do, too. Washington, for its part, requires the medicines to be kept behind a counter, and retailers must keep a log of customers who buy them. Buyers must be 18 or older and present valid photo identification.

Washington lawmakers aren't trying to create loopholes for drug users by steering clear of requiring prescriptions. They are trying to avoid placing a cumbersome burden on cold sufferers. There are plenty of people who use decongestants such as Sudafed for legitimate reasons. Asking them to get a prescription before they can purchase common relief medication is problematic and could be costly to individuals and taxing to the health care system.

But meth is nasty. It is such a big problem that every idea for decreasing meth use should remain on the table.

Methamphetamine users and dealers are a huge drain on our community and our economy. The Associated Press reports Washington spent more than $50 million in 2004 to deal with meth, including prison costs, foster care, treatment, law enforcement and cleanup. A National Association of Counties' survey of law enforcers found that 70 percent of agencies in 45 counties said robberies and burglaries have increased because of meth. So have incidents of domestic violence, assaults and identity theft.

Washington has been hit hard among states in the Pacific Northwest, with nearly twice the number of meth labs reported here than in Oregon and "exponentially more than Idaho and Alaska," the AG Web site states. Meth is wreaking havoc all over Clark County, too. July meth busts here included the seizing of 1 pounds of the drug at an alleged drug house in the Burton area. In a raid near Orchards, police say they busted a dealer with $15,000 worth of meth in his pocket.

It seems easy to argue that the damage methamphetamine brings is worth an added burden on people seeking cold medication. And maybe requiring a prescription is a tactic Washington should try later. Perhaps there is a way to lesson the burden and the process of obtaining and writing the prescriptions.

But we hope lawmakers look thoroughly at all the options available. Those options include using a promising computer database to link the sale of pseudoephedrine-containing drugs from store to store, to truly prevent its purchase for drug making. (Right now, meth cooks can go from one store to another and buy enough pseudoephedrine to make the travels worth their while.) The database could be cost-prohibitive, however. And before a costly database is employed, Washington lawmakers must familiarize themselves with the emergence of other drugs that might work as well. Some pharmaceutical companies are reformulating drugs to use a decongestant that cannot be used to make meth.

At the minimum, as long as pseudoephedrine is included in cold medications, Washington should limit its sale to behind pharmacy counters. That would eliminate some grocery and convenience stores without pharmacies. But that's not unreasonable as lawmakers seek to balance the legal sale of a drug and the distortion of it. Meth is wreaking havoc all over Clark County.

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