Oregon’s Prescription-Only Cold Medicine Law Needs a New Look
In recent years, Cascade Policy Institute has tracked and analyzed the effectiveness of a 2006 Oregon state law that requires all citizens to obtain a doctor’s prescription before buying pseudoephedrine-based cold and allergy medication.
Overall, our analysis found that the law produced a minimal impact on the state’s methamphetamine problem, based on the fact that not only did Oregon see a significant decline in meth lab incidents prior to the law’s passage, but that Oregon’s neighboring states experienced a similar decline in meth labs over the same time period without enacting such a prescription law.
Since Cascade published our study in 2012, Oregon’s meth problem has shown no signs of improvement.
Last month, Oregon’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program released its 2015 Program Year “Threat Assessment and Counter-Drug Strategy.” Within the report, a number of new data points and law enforcement survey findings cast fresh doubts on the 2006 law. Among the most troubling findings:
- While the number of meth lab seizures remains low, volume confiscated in Oregon has grown dramatically since 2007. Ninety percent of law enforcement officials indicate crystal meth was highly available in their area.
- Meth-related arrests in Oregon nearly doubled from 2009 to 2014.
- According to Oregon law enforcement officials, meth is the drug that contributes most to violent crime and property crime and is the primary funding source for major criminal activity.
- According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner Division, the number of fatalities related to meth use rose to a historic high of 123 deaths in 2013, over twice the number of fatalities in 2001.
By any reasonable measure, the 2006 law has failed in spectacular fashion. The newly released 2015 HIDTA report should compel Oregon policymakers to reexamine the law and look for anti-meth measures that actually will lead to progress in the fight against meth.
Oregon’s pseudoephedrine prescription requirement law is poor policy because it fails to address the fundamental causes of meth crime. Clearly, Oregon’s meth users and dealers have been able to bypass the prescription requirement in the same manner criminals have done so relative to prescription medicines, despite strict controls on those products. Meanwhile, law-abiding Oregonians live in one of two states in the entire country that prohibit over-the-counter purchases of popular and effective pseudoephedrine-based cold and allergy medicines. Those products offer powerful relief that allows patients in other states to avoid the costly hassle of making a doctor’s appointment and asking for a prescription.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
A number of other states, including Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kentucky, have experienced drastic success against meth criminals due to targeted legislative solutions that penalize criminals, not consumers. Each of those states employs an electronic pseudoephedrine tracking system that automatically blocks illegal pseudoephedrine purchases and provides law enforcement with critical evidence that leads to meth busts and arrests. Oklahoma, for instance, uses a meth-offender block list, which prohibits certain drug offenders from being able to buy pseudoephedrine products. Since 2012, the state has seen a decline in meth-lab incidents of more than 50 percent.
Oregon’s law enforcement officers regularly put their lives on the line to make our communities safer. Given what is at stake, elected officials have a responsibility to debate and pass legislation that fixes problems and improves the quality of life for the people they serve. Equally important, however, is the responsibility to make changes to laws that have failed to deliver results, especially when those laws inconvenience law-abiding consumers without solving crime-related problems.
It’s time to take a look at the prescription requirement law. The stakes are too high not to.
Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.