Column: Prescriptions won’t stop meth

James P. Hallan and Larry Wagenknecht

The fight against meth production is one that has been waged across the country and in our own backyard. We have seen firsthand the progress our state has made, because our members are on the front lines of this fight. But some are proposing legislation that punishes law-abiding citizens and fails to address the true source of meth. While some criminals here still try to “cook” meth with local ingredients, including pseudoephedrine (PSE), most of the meth in the U.S. is made and illegally imported from Mexico.

Throughout Michigan retail stores and pharmacies are the only locations for consumers to purchase cold and allergy medicine containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), which is an over-the-counter ingredient found in safe and effective cold and allergy medicines such as Sudafed or Claritin-D. Among allergy sufferers, it is immensely popular. Yet the PSE in these medicines can be diverted for use in the “shake and bake” method of meth production. So, it’s a critical medicine for millions of Michiganians, and a vital ingredient for a few crooks. This juxtaposition is why it is critically important that Michigan has smart but tough laws already on the books.

Michigan is one of 33 states that uses the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), a point-of-sale system that blocks the sale of PSE when the purchaser has exceeded daily and monthly limits. In Michigan in 2016, NPLEx blocked the sale of 219,458 grams of pseudoephedrine — totaling more than 83,000 boxes — to those who have reached the limit. NPLEx works between all retailers and pharmacists and across state lines to further ensure that those who exceed the purchase restrictions – particularly those who seek to use PSE to make meth — do not go from store to store to subvert the laws.

Also, Michigan is one of seven states that has further enhanced NPLEx and uses the system to ban the sale of PSE to anyone previously convicted of a meth-related offense. This means criminals who have demonstrated a likelihood to misuse PSE or use meth face an additional barrier blocking access to a meth precursor.

It is important that these balanced policies are on the books, and that they have a proven track record of success in Michigan and across the United States. Even though these laws make Michigan among the toughest states in the country for meth makers to gain access to PSE, there has been a push in Michigan to place further restrictions on access, going as far as to require a prescription for these over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines.

We believe this type of restriction would hurt honest consumers more than stop meth abusers. Requiring a prescription for trusted and FDA-approved, safe cold and allergy medicines would force consumers to take time off from work to see a doctor, increase overall health care costs and worsen burdens on our healthcare system.

Also, because of the strong anti-meth laws already in place, the threat of meth in the U.S. has changed in recent years, making additional restrictions on PSE the wrong policy option. Mexican cartels have taken the place of domestic meth producers as the almost exclusive supplier of meth in the United States.

Every day, retailers and pharmacists utilize the tools in place to make sure honest cold and allergy sufferers maintain access to the decongestants they want and need, while ensuring strong barriers prevent meth makers from getting PSE. Making it even more difficult for honest consumers to obtain these effective decongestants is not the answer to eliminating meth use in our state.

James P. Hallan is president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association. Larry Wagenknecht is CEO of the Michigan Pharmacists Association.