The spread of methamphetamine in Kentucky is a crucible that continues to challenge law enforcement and legislators alike. This issue demands a pro-active, commonsense solution that punishes criminals while protecting the legitimate consumers of these products.
During my 38 years in law enforcement, I've witnessed the devastating effects of methamphetamine in Kentucky. I understand and share lawmakers' frustration and concern over this issue. That is why I have long been an advocate for new tools that assist law enforcement in tracking down and arresting these criminals.
Kentucky has been a pioneer in developing effective technology to deal with criminals who abuse pseudophedrine. In 2008, we became one of the first states to implement the real-time, stop-sale system that has since become a model for 18 other states. This Web-based system is easy to use, free to pharmacies (and the taxpayers) and convenient for customers. Most important, though, it assists law enforcement in identifying and prosecuting smurfers — those who purchase pseudophedrine for meth cooks — and meth labs that otherwise would go undetected.
This tracking system is used by law enforcement across the country every day. In fact, it was recently used in southeastern Kentucky to track and arrest more than 200 suspected smurfers.
Earlier this year, Indiana and Tennessee adopted the system, meaning that four of Kentucky's seven border states will soon have the ability to instantly track and block illegal pseudophedrine sales. It is working and, as more states implement the system, we tighten the net on meth offenders. This ability to communicate across state lines is critical to our success in curtailing meth production. No community's meth problem begins or ends at jurisdictional boundaries.
Many well-intentioned legislators would deputize our physicians and make them the first line of defense in the meth fight by regulating pseudophedrine to prescription status. If this were a recipe for success, we would not be experiencing the escalating problem of prescription drug abuse that so plagues our nation and our state.
Therefore, I must disagree with recent calls for a prescription requirement for products containing pseudophedrine. This approach will cause a number of unintended consequences, including the removal of an important law-enforcement tool, overtaxing our already-stressed health care system and driving up health care costs for all Kentuckians. Mostly though, I am concerned that the move will be ineffective against a criminal activity that continues to evolve.
The truth is, the illegal purchases pseudophedrine and the subsequent manufacture of meth are serious crimes being planned and executed by people whose lives revolve around methamphetamine abuse. Requiring a prescription for pseudophedrine might deter them for a short period of time, but be assured they'll find a way to circumvent the prescription requirement as they already do with countless prescription drugs.
We, too, are now seeing significant amounts of meth coming over the border from Mexico. The prescription requirement would have no bearing on these activities except to give policy makers a false hope that we've solved the problem. Last year, Oregon (which is often held up as the model for prescription pseudophedrine) experienced a 22 percent increase in meth-related deaths, the highest in a decade.
I respect those who advocate for a prescription mandate to fight meth. Their intentions are good, but misdirected. My experience shows that electronic technology is a superior method to combat this menace. If Kentucky requires prescriptions for pseudophedrine, I fear law enforcement will lose control of its distribution. And it would take away the evidence law enforcement needs to prosecute — and ultimately stop — the dangerous criminals who produce meth.
I advocate a better approach, one already in effect in Oklahoma and recently adopted by Tennessee. The Meth Offender Registry prevents convicted offenders from purchasing pseudophedrine, thereby preventing them from engaging in the even much smaller "one-pot" meth-cooking process (which is fueling the rise in meth-lab incidents).
Rather than pushing legitimate consumers into higher costs for the medicine they need, this registry will laser-focus on the convicted criminal, not as punishment, but as crime prevention and accountability in the face of high recidivism.
As one on the front lines of the meth war, I think it is particularly important that we use our best resources to find the criminals. Creating an unnecessary burden on doctors and punishing law-abiding citizens is the wrong approach and a path that I encourage our state not to pursue.