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The Prescription Pseudoephedrine Debate, Behind The Numbers

Brian Kelly Twitter:@brpkelly
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Getty/Craig Mitchelldyer

Getty/Craig Mitchelldyer

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(KMOX)- As law enforcers and allergy sufferers continue debating whether a prescription should be required to purchase drugs containing pseudoephedrine, both sides are throwing out some numbers, and disputing each others’.  We decided to take a closer look.

Nationally known meth fighter, Franklin County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Jason Grellner, and other law officers, say that 90% of the pseudoephedrine-containing drugs sold are used to make meth.

That figure comes, in part, from sales numbers compiled before and after the town of Washington, Missouri  enacted a prescription only ordinance.

They show that in the three months before the ordinance was enacted on July 7, 2009, the five pharmacies in Washington sold 4,346 boxes. In the three months after it went into effect, they sold 268 boxes.  A decline of 94 percent. When compared to the same periods of time in 2008 and 2009, they dropped 92 percent.

When broken down by stores, sales dropped 95 percent at Walmart, 98 percent at Walgreens, 91 percent at Target, 88 percent at Schnucks and 14 percent at Schroeder.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation Executive Director Joy Krieger says she’s not shocked by those numbers, because of where they come from, “There is no question that the meth problem that we have in our area is in Franklin County. To hear that those numbers have gone down like that is not surprising to me.”

Oregon enacted a prescription drug requirement in 2006, after earlier moving pseudoephedrine-containing products behind the counter, and then logging their sales.

According to figures provided by the state, the number of meth lab incidents fell by 41 percent after the drugs were moved behind the counter in 2004. They dropped by 77 percent after the state installed the logging system.

The figures show that in the year before the prescription requirement was enacted in July of 2006, there were 102 meth lab incidents in Oregon. In the year ending June 30, 2012 there were ten, including six so far in 2012.

Krieger, however says that when it comes to the number of people who suffer allergies, and need the drugs that contain pseudoephedrine, Oregon is not Missouri, “Portland is listed as 100 as far as high incidents of asthma and allergies, we’re 29.”  She points to figures that show asthma is the number one reason children are hospitalized in the St. Louis area.

Krieger supports the logging system now in place in Missouri, saying it’s blocking the sales of tens of thousands of boxes to would be meth makers.

State figures show that the system blocked the sale of 49,635 boxes last year.  It allowed the sale of 1.72 mllion. Krieger says they were allowed for a good reason, “The reality is there are a lot of people who suffer from chronic and seasonal allergies, and basically take pseudoephedrine every day.”

Lincoln County, Oregon District Attorney Rob Bovett contends those numbers show the tracking system is a failure, “Your smurfers are using the system as a check to make sure they don’t exceed the lawful limits and they’re all just flying right underneath your limits. What we have is group smurfing, so instead of one person buying 100 boxes at 100 different pharmacies you have 100 people buying a box each and buying it until they hit your limit.”

Bovett says the prescription requirement has virtually eliminated Oregon’s meth problem, “We just don’t have many meth labs and the handful we do have each year the pseudoephedrine is brought in from our neighboring states.”

But how do Oregon’s doctors feel about it?  Eugene physician Kraig Jacobson says the prescription law is a hassle, because it treats allergy medicine like a narcotic, “Patients have to hand-carry a script that has a signature on it, a paper copy, when they go in. They can fill no more than 30 days at a time. They have to show I.D.”
When asked if the elimination of meth is worth that hassle, Jacobson says he has to be neutral, “It always ticks me off to have to write these prescriptions. On the other hand, this meth thing is a big problem.”

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