The solution to the proliferation of methamphetamine labs in the state is remarkably simple and effective: Require a prescription for the cold medicine used to produce meth.
Meth labs are on the rise in South Carolina. A State Law Enforcement Division report noted that the state had more meth lab incidents from 2008 and 2010 than its neighboring states.
That is evident in recent reports of local meth busts. Meth ruins thousands of lives nationwide each year.
But the production of meth requires what law enforcement agencies refer to as precursors, which in this casel are drugs found in common over-the-counter cold remedies. The drugs – ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine – are the key ingredients in decongestants such as Sudafed.
Customers no longer can find these products on the shelves of pharmacies or other stores. They must ask cashiers for them, produce an ID and sign a log book to buy the medicine.
But that has not proven to be a significant deterrent for those buying the pills from numerous locations, often using several different fake IDs to do so. Unfortunately, it remains all too easy to accumulate enough of the cold medicine to cook a batch of meth.
Meth labs themselves are a significant hazard. Fumes are lethal, requiring those making the meth to wear special masks, and the process is highly flammable. Labs frequently explode.
To combat this menace, state Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, has introduced a bill that would make the medicines containing precursors for meth available by prescription only. Oregon and Mississippi have passed similar laws, and production of meth has practically been eliminated in both states.
Proponents admit that the move could make it inconvenient to get the decongestants and raise their price. Patients would have to contact a doctor to get a prescription, which could be an additional cost.
But supporters of the bill also note that a number of other good cold and allergy relief medicines that don’t contain any of the three drugs used in making meth are available over the counter. And if patients demand Sudafed, it’s not that difficult to get a doctor to call in a prescription.
It also should be noted that while this decongestant is popular and effective, it is not a necessary lifesaving drug nor one used on a long-term basis. No one dies from a cold.
But many people do die from abusing methamphetamines. And too many innocent people, including children, die in accidents that occur at meth labs.
Making decongestants containing the precursor drugs prescription only could virtually wipe out meth production in the state. The small sacrifice for people with runny noses is worth it.