The producers of a popular, legal over-the-counter decongestant that's used in making illegal methamphetamine are pushing a proposal in Kentucky that they say will reduce meth production.
The proposal presented to an interim legislative committee last week is to ban people convicted of meth-related crimes from buying the drugs.
It's not a bad idea except for two things. Meth "cookers", as the people who make the deadly brew are called, rarely buy the pseudophedrine themselves. Instead, they hire people called "smurfers" to go to drug stores and buy it.
The other reason it's a bad idea is that it's being offered as an alternative to a better one — requiring a prescription for pseudophedrine as a way to limit access to it for illegal purposes.
That's been proposed unsuccessfully in the last two legislative sessions. Meth production declined dramatically in Oregon and Mississippi after prescriptions were required for pseudophedrine
Throughout the last decade, a series of policies have been enacted to limit access to pseudophedrine by moving it behind the pharmacist's counter, requiring an ID to purchase it and capping the amount an individual can buy in one year.
In 2008, Kentucky became one of the first states to implement a system to track pseudophedrine purchases in real time, allowing law enforcement officials to look for trends indicating the presence of smurfers.
Despite these efforts, the meth scourge has continued to grow at a rapid rate. Meth lab busts more than doubled in Kentucky between 2008 and 2010 and are on track to beat last year's record this year.
It's not a record we want to surpass. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about making pseudophedrine a prescription drug. It will make it harder and more expensive for people in allergy-prone Kentucky to get relief from medicines with that ingredient, although many other medications will still be available over the counter.
But it's a trade-off that the Kentucky Medical Association and various law enforcement groups back because they see the costs and dangers associated with meth use and production.
Meth devastates the people who use and often exacts a terrible toll on innocent people, including way too many children, who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The costs to law enforcement are huge, too. Meth labs are so dangerous that they have to be treated as toxic waste sites and the expense of cleaning them up is straining already thin public-safety budgets.
Kentucky's legislators should not fall for this second-rate solution to a devastating problem.