There’s no doubt methamphetamine abuse has been a problem across the Midwest. Domestic meth production however, is on the decline. The overwhelming majority of illegal meth in the U.S. today comes from the Mexican border, not from ingredients bought in our local pharmacies. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, as much as 90 percent of the meth found in the U.S. today is first produced in Mexico and smuggled across the border by drug cartels.
Despite these facts, some states – instead of working to prevent the flow of illegal meth from our southern neighbor and addressing the underlying issues of meth addiction – have decided to pass restrictive legislation that penalizes cold and allergy sufferers by mandating prescriptions for current over-the-counter medicine containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), a common ingredient used in meth production at home. Such misguided legislation is not the answer to Missouri’s meth problem, and I’m working with the Missouri General Assembly to ensure prescription-only legislation will not succeed here in the Show-Me State.
Consumers have relied on affordable over-the-counter medicine containing PSE for over 40 years. Requiring allergy and cold sufferers to make a trip to the doctor’s office to obtain a prescription for nonprescription medicine places an undue burden on both consumers and primary care providers. In fact, a recent study from Avalere Health found 25 percent of Missourians already live in an area without enough doctors. Additionally, placing a new prescription requirement for current OTC medicines containing PSE would create an 23,491 new doctor visits in the state, creating an unnecessary additional workload burden on a physician community that is already facing a shortage, costing $400,000 in new Medicaid spending on unnecessary doctor visits and prescriptions, and resulting in 700,000 in lost sales tax revenue for Missouri in the first year alone.
Another study, by Matrix Global Advisors CEO Alex Brill found that requiring a prescription for PSE medicine would cost consumers, insurers, and government $130 million a year, across the country. Here in Missouri, a prescription requirement would cost consumers more than $5 million in out-of-pocket expenses. Private insurance companies would be hit with another $17 million in costs—likely passed down to policy holders. Medicare and Medicaid would see additional costs of $11.6 million and $4 million, respectively, again hurting law-abiding taxpayers.
In the states that have passed similar legislation, the effects on meth production have been negligible. Oregon and Mississippi, who both recently passed prescription-only requirements, have not seen a steep decline in meth lab incidents.
Study after study highlights that these policies fail to address the core underlying issues of continued demand for meth and the increase in foreign supply of the drug. As long as Mexican drug traffickers continue flooding the U.S. with Mexican meth, the problem will persist, regardless of whether or not we require American families and allergy sufferers to start obtaining prescriptions for these common nonprescription medicines.
There are policies, however, that have worked to penalize criminals while not hindering law-abiding purchasers. Missouri has seen success in preventing criminals’ access to PSE through use of the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) system, which blocks the sale of medicine containing PSE when a consumer has reached a certain limit. The program was so successful, in fact, the NPLEx system helped block the illegal sale of 36,642 boxes of PSE-containing medicine in 2015.
We must focus on the underlying causes of the meth epidemic, not unnecessary restrictions that do nothing but punish law-abiding Missourians.