Open another front in fight against meth

We realize it's a lot to ask of a state full of allergy- and sinus-sufferers. But Kentucky should begin requiring a doctor's prescription to obtain the popular decongestant that's a precursor to methamphetamine.

The Kentucky Medical Association and various law enforcement groups are also calling on the legislature to "schedule" pseudoephedrine.

The KMA's position is especially compelling. Kentucky's doctors know better than anyone the high costs of treating meth-related burns, injuries and illnesses and the horrible toll it's taking on public health.

Of all the ways that Kentuckians have found for temporarily altering their realities, none is more pernicious. Quickly addictive and extremely corrosive to health and mind, meth is associated with all the ills of addiction: neglect, poverty, violence, crime. And then some.

Meth's manufacture creates public health and environmental hazards, not to mention the risk of explosions. Children are often exposed to toxic fumes and waste. Property where meth has been "cooked" requires decontamination.

Ever-resourceful methheads have even figured out how to make the stuff in plastic bottles that can be discarded from moving cars.

The smaller, more dispersed operations are harder to find. The contamination is also more dispersed. Some civic-minded Kentuckian in an Adopt-a-Highway cleanup has probably already picked up a mini meth-lab.

Because this plague has hit rural states especially hard, Kentucky has led in limiting access to pseudoephedrine, the decongestant that, mixed with common household chemicals, makes meth.

A 2005 law put it behind pharmacy counters and required buyers to present a photo ID. The number of meth labs declined but not for long.

So, in 2008, Kentucky became the first state to electronically track pseudoephedrine purchases. MethCheck, the database paid for by the drug industry, blocked 18,000 sales the first year.

But it has failed to stop the rise in meth labs. Meth makers get around the tracking by using false IDs and enlisting buyers, or "smurfers," who purchase small quantities of pseudoephedrine at a time.

Kentucky is on track to confiscate more than 1,000 meth labs, the most ever, by the end of 2010. That's a 75-percent increase over the peak reached before pseudoephedrine purchases were recorded.

You might surmise that meth busts are soaring because the electronic tracking is leading police to more labs. Sadly, that's not so. Less than 10 percent of Kentucky's meth lab confiscations result from electronic tracking.

Electronic tracking is not keeping the precursor out of the hands of meth makers, which is why it should again be made a prescription drug as it was until 1976.

Kentuckians could still import meth and travel to seven border states to buy the ingredient. But just putting a dent in meth production here would better protect the public, especially if coupled with expanded access to treatment.

If Kentucky has half the success that Oregon has had since requiring pseudoephedrine prescriptions in 2005, the inconvenience would be worth it. Meth labs have all but disappeared in Oregon. Mississippi became the second to "schedule" pseudoephedrine this year and is seeing a decline in meth labs.

By becoming the third state to further limit access to the meth precursor, Kentucky also could nudge Congress toward a national law.