New Drug Trafficking Report Casts More Doubt on the Effectiveness of Oregon’s Prescription-Only Pseudoephedrine Policy

Pseudoephedrine is used in allergy and cold medications, but it is also a precursor chemical used to make the illegal drug methamphetamine. Making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug was seen by some as a way to reduce the number of illegal meth labs in our state. Earlier this year, Cascade Policy Institute released a study that cast serious doubts on the effectiveness of our state’s 2006 pseudoephedrine prescription law. Now, Oregon’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program is out with a new report that corroborates our findings.

According to the HIDTA report, Oregon now ranks fourth in the nation for illegal drug use among people 12 years old and up. Even more worrisome, fatalities from drug use spiked by 20% between 2010 and 2011. Methamphetamine abuse accounted for a large portion of those fatalities.

The report also found that admissions to treatment centers for people struggling with prescription drug abuse has increased three-fold over the last nine years, and that 25% of people entering public treatment centers used meth―even more than those who used cocaine.

One of they key arguments you will hear from Rx-only advocates is that the prescription mandate law was never intended to address the overall meth problem, just meth production. They claim, furthermore, that the number of Oregon meth labs has plummeted as a direct result of the law.

As we stated in our February report, our researchers found that contention to be unfounded. Six neighboring and nearby states, which don’t have prescription mandate laws, have experienced markedly similar rates of decline. Furthermore, the largest period of meth-lab decline in Oregon came before our prescription mandate law took effect.

Regardless of what the original intent of the law was, the bottom line is that meth abuse and trafficking continue to be a central problem facing our state. Are meth labs declining in Oregon? Sure. But a whole host of other meth-related crimes are making our streets unsafe. One of the most concerning points in the HIDTA report is the clear evidence that Mexican drug cartels actually have a bigger presence in Oregon due to the prescription mandate.

Oregon leaders need to ask themselves if it’s fair to continue forcing law-abiding citizens to obtain a doctor’s prescription before buying common cold and allergy medicines. Why should Oregon families have to pay more for medicines or drive out of state, when the prescription mandate law has done little or nothing to reduce meth’s unyielding grip on our state?

In addition to meth and other dangerous drugs, prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic across the country. Despite strict prescription requirements for drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet, drug dealers are able to obtain large quantities. Do we really think meth manufactures and dealers aren’t able to bypass Oregon’s prescription mandate?

So what’s the answer? While I strongly disagree with Rx-only advocates, I share their desire to reduce dangerous meth production and abuse in our state. I firmly believe, however, that solutions to these problems can be achieved in a targeted manner. There is no need to burden honest Oregonians with a prescription mandate.

It’s time to give Oregon’s prescription mandate a long, hard look.

Steve Buckstein is a founder and senior policy analyst at the Cascade Policy Institute in Portland.

About Steve Buckstein

Senior Policy Analyst and founder.
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2 Responses to New Drug Trafficking Report Casts More Doubt on the Effectiveness of Oregon’s Prescription-Only Pseudoephedrine Policy

  1. Neil Huff says:

    As a matter of interest, what were the levels of drug addiction and their personal and public harm in the era where these were available over the counter in drug stores? Were the costs ever subject to analysis? If there was an effect equal to that of, say cheap gin in 18th century England wouldn’t someone recorded it? The apparent absence in the record of any social disaster as far reaching as current drug use entails should be an area of interest and study. Present drug use, addition rates and the costly array of enforcement means and methods and the equally costly (and largely ineffective) rehab industry should be re evaluated by comparing these with the same factors existing when one could buy their drug of choice over the counter.

    My own (uninformed) opinion on the matter is: the principal reason for the different sociological and personal harm outcomes stems from a cultural environment today many find so disturbing and confusing that drugs become the only means they have of dealing with an environment that is totally dehumanizing. Very much, I would say like 18th century England.

  2. Neil Huff says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by the argument that various addictive substances be placed under a govt controlled program, that according to the argument- will take the business out of the hands of criminals and thus reduce crime, incarceration rates, death by over-dose, etc.

    There is a fly in this ointment, however. Any such program would necessarily involve medical prescriptions. What doctor controlled program is going to dole out dangerous drugs to: A. Pregnant and lactating females? B. Persons under the age of either 18 or 21? C. Persons whose “fix” requires near lethal doses? D. Addicts whose legal monthly prescriptive limit has been reached?

    This program would therefore leave unserviced groups whose totals would run in to the tens of millions. Where would they get their drugs? Exactly where they get them at present. Only then with a slightly smaller market prices would soar and gang warfare in our cities for these consumers would intensify reaching truly epic proportions.

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