A General Assembly committee has recommended a change in North Carolina law that would require a prescription for anyone seeking to purchase medicine which contains pseudoephedrine.
The reasoning is that since pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth, if pseudoephedrine is more difficult to obtain then the number of meth labs in the state will drop. Already North Carolina lawmakers have made it more difficult for people to purchase such drugs — in 2006 those drugs were moved behind the counter in drug stores. While a prescription is not needed, a customer must complete paperwork in order to purchase the drugs, show an ID, and there is a statewide limit on how much a single person can buy each month.
The committee members cite numbers in two other states which have enacted such laws as justification. In Mississippi, the number of meth-lab incidents dropped from 700 in 2010 to 250 in 2011 after a similar measure was enacted, and in Oregon, the number went from slightly more than 50 to less than a dozen.
We understand the desire to move toward eliminating meth labs in the state, and we support most efforts to do so, but we hope local legislators will oppose this measure. The major effect the law will have is to increase health care costs in North Carolina by forcing residents to go through their doctor to get common cold medicines, and we doubt many doctors will be doing this for free. That means more cost to individuals, or more individuals simply going without the medicine they need.
And the idea that this will be any sort of long-term impediment to those operating meth labs is a dubious belief.
In North Carolina, when these medicines were moved from shelves to behind the counter, meth lab incidents fell from 328 in 2005 to 197 in 2006, a seemingly resounding success. By 2011, the number was back up to 344, and as of Dec. 10 of this year, there have been 444 such incidents, according to the State Bureau of Investigation.
The lesson here is that those seeking to go into the meth business can be dissuaded in the short term by laws limiting access to pseudoephedrine, but given a little time they will figure a way around the rules. We suspect the same will happen in Mississippi and Oregon and any other state that enacts laws requiring prescriptions — the numbers will drop dramatically for a year or two, then climb back to or exceed the levels seen prior to such legislation.
So the question becomes is the law a good one to help stop meth production in North Carolina without undue burden on other state residents?
We believe at best there is not enough information available for a reliable answer — wait a few years to see what the numbers in Mississippi and Oregon show. At worst, this is a law that will make life more difficult for law-abiding citizens with little long-term effect on the meth trade.