The production and use of methamphetamine—a highly addictive drug often made with store-bought ingredients—continues to be a serious problem for many states around the country, including Oregon.

Curbing meth’s negative impacts on communities, individuals, and families is an important societal goal; and it is understandable why our state legislators sought to do something about it in 2005.

That year, Oregon adopted a law that included a prescription requirement for what were then over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), such as Advil Cold & Sinus, Claritin-D, and Sudafed. Because PSE is also an ingredient used in the manufacture of meth, the idea behind the prescription requirement was to keep it out of the hands of meth cooks.

The problem is that since 2006, law-abiding Oregonians have had to obtain a prescription to treat minor cold or seasonal allergy symptoms, something consumers in 48 other states don’t have to bother with.

As a result, responsible Oregonians are now forced to take time off work, call a doctor, visit a hospital or clinic, and pick up a prescription—just to buy a box of Mucinex-D. Not only is that a significant hassle for most people, it also leads to higher health care costs, involuntary time away from work for individuals, and lower productivity for Oregon businesses.

Putting aside these considerable burdens, Cascade Policy Institute set out to determine whether the prescription mandate actually has been successful in reducing meth’s impact on the state.

Our study looked at meth trends in Oregon from 2004 to 2010 and compared what was happening here to similar states and the country as a whole. We found that while the number of meth lab related incidents in 2010 is down 97% from 2004, that doesn’t speak to the success of the prescription requirement.

Why not? Because six nearby states that don’t have a prescription requirement, including Washington State and California, experienced similar declines in meth lab incidents. In addition, almost all of Oregon’s 97% drop occurred between 2004 and 2006, before the prescription law even took effect.

The decline in illegal meth manufacturing also has not corresponded to a decline in meth use or availability in Oregon. The sad fact is that the reduction of one source of methamphetamine only leads to the increased availability of the drug from other sources, including Mexican super labs.

Furthermore, a new study by Jane Carlisle Maxwell of the University of Texas at Austin and Mary-Lynn Brecht of the University of California at Los Angeles found that Mexican meth manufacturers (in a country that imposed a ban on pseudoephedrine in 2008) are increasingly using alternative methods to make the drug, including the P2P method, which doesn’t rely on PSE.

In addition, Maxwell and Brecht pointed to findings from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration which indicate that Mexican meth cooks are also “looking to other areas in the world for the required chemicals and the ability of Asian manufacturers who use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to produce large quantities of high quality methamphetamine which may become another source of the drug in the U.S.”

But independent of the new realities in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, Oregon’s own High Intensity Drug Area (HIDTA), reported in September 2011 that meth continues to be “highly available” and remains “the most serious drug threat in Oregon.” Maxwell and HIDTA’s findings are consistent with Cascade’s conclusions.

While legislators who voted for Oregon’s prescription requirement no doubt had good intentions, the bottom line is that it has been ineffective in achieving its intended purpose of significantly reducing meth production and use in the state.

Given that the law has fallen short of its goals, and because responsible Oregonians have been significantly affected by its prescription requirement, it’s time for Oregon lawmakers to revisit the six-year-old-law and, hopefully, repeal it.

Click here to read the full report.


13 thoughts on “Cold Medicine Prescriptions Have Not Reduced Meth Lab Incidents or Use in Oregon

  1. Must disagree with you Steve. My wife was one of the primary methlab decontamination contractors in the State of Oregon; and did numerous jobs in Washington. Labs in Oregon averaged 250 – 350 per year in the state. After passage of the bill, labs dropped to 25 -30 a year.

    I will agree that this has not reduced the meth problem by one iota; Mexican labs are buying entire tankers full of pseudoephedrine from rogue countries such as North Korea; and I doubt if the price ever went up more than 5-10% at its highest.

    However, the average homeowner / landlord in Oregon spent around $8000. to decontaminate a methlab; and it extremely rare for homeowners insurance to pay for it. Average annual costs were probably in the $2M range in Oregon. Crooked owners just sold the house without disclosing, or rented it again without decontaminating.

    1. Matthew, thanks for sharing your wife’s perspective on this issue as a meth lab decontamination contractor. Let me just highlight one section of our report which makes pretty clear that it wasn’t Oregon’s Rx-only law that led to the dramatic decrease in meth labs:

      Our researchers relied on federal DEA data to document that it was difficult to notice a significant difference between Oregon’s rate of decrease in meth lab incidents from 2004 to 2010 and other Western states.

      Here is the relevant section from page 4 of our report:

      “Examination of the EPIC [federal DEA] data for Oregon indeed shows a significant drop of meth lab incidents from 467 in 2004 to 12 in 2010 – a decline of more than 90% – as shown in Figure 1. However, close examination reveals that Oregon already had experienced an 89% drop in meth lab incidents (from 467 to 50) by 2006, indicating that most of the drop predates implementation of the Rx-only law. In fact, local reporting and law enforcement have attributed those declines to effective policing starting in 2004, but it is important to note that the 89% drop from 2004 to 2006 also came after Oregon adopted its earlier behind-the-counter law for pseudoephedrine.”

      You can clearly see what happened in Figure 1 on page 4 of our report. Meth lab incidents here had already dropped to about 50 per year before our Rx-only law went into effect. Washington and California saw very similar drops by just implementing behind-the-counter regulations.

      1. Are ytou saying that behind the counter placement and effective policing will reduce meth labs by 90% in all states? Whay has that not happened?

        1. Our study doesn’t identify why states outside the West saw an increase in meth lab incidents after 2007. Oregon, Washington and California saw 90 percent plus declines since 2004 even though only Oregon required PSE prescriptions starting in 2006.

  2. PSE is BTC in all states right now and I imagine police efforts in all states are at least as good as Oregon. Have the number of meth lab seizures in all 50 states dropped by 90% as they did in Oregon?

    1. No, incidents appeared to drop on average in all states until 2007, then continued to drop in the West while increasing elsewhere. Our report does not find a definitive reason for the difference, although it might be related to Mexican super-labs more than totally replacing supplies in the West while demand elsewhere might have been met by small time meth cooks finding ways around the behind the counter laws. Now, a national real time tracking system is going into effect in many states which may turn that trend around.

      1. Thank you. So simply having PSE BTC and doing regular police work did not result in all states seeing a 90% drop in meth lab seizures. You mentioned other states meth lab seizures have gone up since 2007…have Oregon’s meth lab seizures also gone up since 2007? Is the tracking system going in for certain? This seems a good idea.

        1. Oregon’s incidents have not gone up since 2007, but continued down. But California and Washington continued down also with an Rx-only law. I know the tracking system is going in in a number of states but not sure if or when it will be universal.

  3. I agree with you that the prescription requirement is not effective enough to be worth the cost the the average person. However, it should be noted that a major factor in the drop of meth labs nation wide is the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 (CMEA), a federal law making it much harder to attain PSE.
    Also, in my opinion it is less of a problem for the US if production of meth moves to other countries purely because of property damages and criminal cases.

  4. interesting article on this subject out of Oklahoma. google

    “Oregon a test case for pseudoephedrine drug law”, Tulsa World

  5. looking at the numbers (06-10) there has been a 80%+ drop in labs since prescriptions came in. 50 labs down to 9.

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