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.