NC lawmakers consider prescription for cold meds

By Corey Friedman

The bottle of bleach in your laundry room can compromise a crime scene by destroying DNA, potentially setting a killer free.

Courtesy: Brad Coville/The Wilson Times

Freon, the refrigerant in home air conditioners, can be huffed as an intoxicant.

And pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in popular drugstore decongestants, is the key ingredient in methamphetamine.

Plenty of household items can be detrimental, harmful or fatal if they’re used for an unintended purpose. Nobody’s suggesting that we put bleach under lock and key in the supermarket or strip air conditioners of their cooling power to prevent abuse.

But state lawmakers are considering tighter controls on pseudoephedrine. A state House committee recommended this week that the full General Assembly vote on a proposal to require prescriptions for medications containing the drug.

Legislators say the prescription requirement would make pseudoephedrine harder to come by for meth manufacturers. They believe it would put a dent in the number of meth labs popping up across the state — up 29 percent this year from 2011.

“We’re still having a lot of problems with people continuing to go in and getting enough (pseudoephedrine) to cook methamphetamine,” said state Rep. Joe Tolson, a Pinetops Democrat who represents portions of Wilson and Edgecombe counties. “All we want to do is put it on the table for discussion.”

North Carolina began regulating pseudoephedrine in January 2006. Pharmacies must keep the drug behind the counter and record who purchases it — and how often. State law limits the amount someone can purchase and requires that pharmacies check buyers’ identification.

The restrictions initially cut the number of North Carolina meth lab busts in half, according to the state Department of Justice. But officials say meth is now on the rise as manufacturers switch to “one-pot” meth labs that require less pseudoephedrine to make the illegal drug.

To date, authorities have shut down 444 meth labs in North Carolina this year. Four labs were found in Wilson County and neighboring Wayne County ranked second in the state with 27 meth lab busts, according to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Lawmakers stress that they’re keeping an open mind and haven’t decided whether they’d vote for a bill that would require a prescription for medicines like Sudafed and Advil Cold and Sinus.

State Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, and Rep.-elect Susan Martin, a Wilson Republican, both said they understand why constituents would be against the increased controls.

“I just think that something like that would make it difficult for everyone else who’s doing it for the right reasons,” Farmer-Butterfield said.

That instinct’s the right one. It’s profoundly unfair to punish cold and allergy sufferers for the actions of criminal drug manufacturers.

Making everyone with a stuffy nose see a doctor in order to buy decongestant doesn’t make medical sense. Under this proposed new law, urgent care clinics and doctor’s offices could be overrun with folks who just need Sudafed and bedrest.

It also drives up the cost of health care, since even patients with good health insurance would have to meet co-pay requirements for the unnecessary doctor visits.

We think North Carolina residents can decide for themselves whether they have a legitimate need for products containing pseudoephedrine. We feel increasing controls on the drug punishes the wrong people — cold and allergy sufferers — rather than the back-alley meth cooks state officials are targeting.

From over-the-counter medications to household cleaners, many items we buy and use on a daily basis have some potential for abuse. Authorities should pursue those who use legal products to cause others harm, but keeping them out of the hands of those who seek to use them responsibly is a bridge too far.

[Note: This post originally appeared in The Wilson Times.]

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