The General Assembly should pass a proposal to require prescriptions for certain medications that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine.
This is the third year that bills to do that have been filed only to languish without a floor vote. Although it seems like anyone who can read a newspaper or turn on a television would know by now that Kentucky has a meth problem, that message was reinforced this week when the Associated Press reported we had the nation's fourth-highest number of meth lab busts last year, 1,188, up from 1,080 in 2010.
Meth can be made in the simplest of labs (such as a plastic soft drink bottle) using common, readily available ingredients, including pseudoephedrine. It is highly addictive and dangerous for users, and the labs are dangerous for anyone exposed to them.
Opponents to prescription requirements argue that Kentuckians who suffer from cold and allergy symptoms will bear extra cost and inconvenience to get the pseudoephedrine they often use to treat their conditions. Why, they ask, should honest, law-abiding people suffer because other people choose to abuse a dangerous drug?
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It's a fair question but ignores the fundamental intent of the measures that have been proposed, which is primarily to cut back on meth labs and only secondarily to reduce meth abuse.
Meth labs produce toxic fumes; those fumes are also very volatile, so the risk of explosion and fire is constant. The labs are so dangerous that they must be treated as hazardous waste sites when they are discovered.
People exposed to meth production can be harmed or killed by the chemicals, the fumes or fire.
News accounts in Kentucky too often tell about children found in homes where meth is produced, often harmed or even killed by exposure to the ingredients and the process. Neighbors or bystanders (you can make meth in a car or on a park bench) are also at risk.
In the two states that require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, meth lab busts have dropped dramatically, by 90 percent in Oregon and 70 percent in Mississippi.
The prescription requirement in the most recent bill offered in Frankfort did not apply to pseudoephedrine in liquid form, which is harder to use in meth production, so the medication would be available over the counter in capsules.
The opposition to these efforts is driven by a powerful and wealthy group representing the pharmaceutical companies producing medications containing pseudoephedrine.
The Courier-Journal reported Tuesday that in January the Consumer Healthcare Products Association spent $194,957.56 lobbying the legislature, five times as much as any other lobbying group.
That muscle has been effective. Last year, a bill passed out of committee but never reached the full Senate for a vote.
There are no silver bullets for drug abuse. These restrictions wouldn't stop meth abuse in Kentucky. But by controlling access to a critical ingredient one could go a long way toward protecting children and innocent adults who are now exposed by the thousands to the potentially deadly effects of meth production.