By Garth Reynolds, Executive Director Illinois Pharmacists Association
Across the country, every state is faced with their own issues of drug use and addiction. With this problem, concerned citizens, business leaders and policy makers have stepped up to take on these issues, usually to great success. One such success that Illinois has experienced – and I have been engaged with as a pharmacist and Executive Director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association – is the battle against methamphetamine (meth) production in our state. All across the Prairie State, pharmacists, in partnership with law enforcement, have utilized the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to ensure that cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) does not end up in the hands of criminals who use PSE to make meth.
NPLEx, is a real-time, stop-sale technology, paid for by the over-the-counter drug industry and used in 32 states across America. This system has helped block the illegal sale of 64,658 boxes of PSE from January to July 2015 to individuals who exceeded their purchase limit. Over a similar time period from January to August 2015, meth lab seizures decreased by 12.6 percent compared to the same period in 2014. All of this progress in the fight against meth has been made without restricting access to medication for law-abiding cold and allergy sufferers.
Unfortunately, lawmakers in Springfield are pushing for legislation that would require a prescription for anyone purchasing cold and allergy medicine containing PSE. Not only is this a troubling proposal because PSE has been used safely over-the-counter for nearly 40 years, there have been multiple recent studies that highlight how ineffective such a law would be.
The National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL) published a report over the summer, analyzing the results of a prescription-only law in Oregon and Mississippi, the only states to go so far as to restrict all consumer access to PSE-containing medicine. They found that meth use has remained constant in both states. In fact, Oregon saw meth-related deaths increase every year since they began requiring a prescription for PSE. The study found that while meth labs decreased in Oregon and Mississippi, this was part of a larger, regional trend and neighboring states saw decreases as well.
The reason for the decrease in meth labs and increase in meth-related deaths in Oregon can be traced back to the real source of meth in the state: Mexican drug cartels. A study from economist Alex Brill, confirmed the real facts facing states like Illinois. With approximately 90 percent coming from Mexico – meth should be considered as a demand issue not a supply issue. That means as the growing threat of methamphetamine pushed by foreign drug cartels comes to the forefront, our legislators at the state and national level should be focused on stopping drugs at the border and helping educate those at risk of addiction and treat those who are already addicted.
The terrible fact of illegal drugs is that they are inherently addictive substances. And because of that, addicts will do whatever it takes to obtain methamphetamine, regardless of whether they are made locally or in Mexico. Therefore, the best policy to see long-term success, on decreasing meth labs and addressing methamphetamine use, will be to ensure that we minimize those who are affected with addiction.