Curb meth: Require prescriptions for cold med

At issue | Jan. 14 Herald-Leader article, "Lawmakers offer new fix for a growing problem; battle looms over requiring prescriptions for some cold medicines"

By Hal Rogers

It feels like déjà vu as I read through daily newspaper articles and find story after story detailing another horrendous drug epidemic spreading across Kentucky.

In 2003, a series of news articles pinpointed Eastern Kentucky as the "Prescription Painkiller Capital of the Nation" with the powerful narcotic, OxyContin, as the No. 1 culprit. Today, seven years later, the illicitly manufactured drug, methamphetamine, is poisoning our communities.

Meth has become so commonplace manufacturers can make it virtually anywhere, any time in a one-step process. It is so simple and cheap they can go to any local store that sells common household products like drain cleaner and batteries, purchase their limit of pseudoephedrine and mix the ingredients in a 20-oz. plastic soda bottle.

In comparison to all of the drug-related news reports that seem to pop up around the clock, none stopped me in my tracks like the heart-wrenching story of 22-month-old Kayden Branham from my hometown in Wayne County. His tragic story is fueling a new mission.

In Kayden's case, the corrosive drain cleaner was left in an open cup at a home where meth was allegedly being made. Kayden died an unthinkable death after drinking from that cup in May 2009.

With the number of meth labs skyrocketing across Kentucky, I can only imagine and pray for all of the children, unaccounted for, in homes where meth is being made. And let there be no doubt that meth is on the rise.

In 2010, law enforcement responded to a staggering 1,100 meth lab sites in Kentucky, up from 738 in 2009.

And even these figures are deceptive, as within each site there may be dozens or even hundreds of meth labs. Last year in Clay County, for example, law enforcement responded to one site where 85 labs were found on a hillside.

The cost of investigations, arrests, incarceration, treatment and dismantling labs is crippling our already unstable Kentucky economy, to the tune of $48 million a year.

The personal impact is even more tragic. Meth labs are endangering the lives of first responders, the innocent children in meth homes and anyone who unknowingly passes by a combustible meth lab in a car, a backpack or soda bottle.

The one and only ingredient that meth cannot be made without is pseudoephedrine.

In 2005, the increase in meth labs prompted Kentucky state legislators to limit the sales of pseudoephedrine and put the medication behind the pharmacy counter.

Optimism quickly deflated, as the realization of loopholes grew apparent. Vanloads of people have been caught buying their individual limit of pseudoephedrine to mass-produce the highly addictive drug they all crave. Police have dubbed the scheme "smurfing."

In fact, Kentucky State Police believe as much as 77 percent of pseudoephedrine sold is used to make meth.

Oregon experienced the same effects as Kentucky. However, when Kentucky moved to electronically monitor the sales of pseudoephedrine in 2007 in hopes of tightening the loopholes, Oregon went the extra mile, passing legislation to make it a scheduled controlled substance, requiring a prescription. Oregon's decision was a real solution. Meth lab sites dropped to 55 in 2006 with a record low of 10 in 2009, compared to the more than 700 meth lab sites in Kentucky the same year.

Mississippi is also experiencing dramatic results after following suit last July, reporting a 68 percent decrease. Indiana, Tennessee and Missouri are now considering similar legislation.

Our national neighbor Mexico, largely criticized for its lack of drug enforcement over the years, completely banned pseudoephedrine.

Kayden Branham is our wake-up call. Will Kentucky hit the snooze button and lay in bed with the industry or fight for a real solution?

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