Just over a week ago the House of Delegates passed a bill that would make 15 cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine available only by prescription.
"Sudafed" is the most familiar of these medicines. To save space I will refer to all 15 of these drugs collectively as "sudafed" (not capitalized).
I received more negative emails and phone calls from Jefferson County about this bill than on any issue (other than a heavily Eastern Panhandle one) in some years. Yet I voted for it. Why?
While sudafed is a very good drug for colds, it is also a necessary ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine ("meth"). Meth is a highly addictive narcotic that is extremely dangerous to make. Meth is also quite lucrative on the black market, and for that reason it is often manufactured in private homes.
Many neighborhoods have seen housing values plummet when the residents of one home turn it into a "meth lab." Often the product explodes during manufacture, destroying the home or apartment building and killing or maiming residents (some of whom may not have been involved in making meth).
We in Jefferson County do not have a great deal of this activity in our community (although we do have some). But in much of the state it has become an epidemic.
In recent years the sale of sudafed has been moved from "over-the-counter" to "behind-the-counter" in pharmacies. That was done in an effort to cut down on the number of meth labs. That strategy has not worked.
In 2006 Oregon restricted the purchase of sudafed to prescription-only. Mississippi followed last year. Both states have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of meth labs operating within their boundaries. In Oregon the number of meth lab incidents was cut almost in half in a year. Mississippi saw a drop of 68 percent in six months! Treatment admissions for meth addiction also fell dramatically in both states. That's why I voted for the bill we passed to make sudafed a prescription-only medicine.
Some people were worried that criminal gangs might move into Oregon to import meth. It hasn't happened. In fact Oregon's crime rate is lower than at any time in the last 40 years. Other folks feared that health care costs would increase dramatically, because people would be going to doctors for sudafed prescriptions. That hasn't happened either, because there are about a hundred good cold medicines available that do not contain pseudoephedrine.
Oregon's statewide Medicaid costs for cold medicine went up by less than $8,000 the first year of its bill being in effect. That's less than the cost of cleaning up one meth lab or the cost of a single day of care in a burn unit.
Many of the folks who contacted me from back home complaining about the bill wondered why in the world we would want to restrict such a good medicine to prescription-only purchase. I think it's because as I mentioned above Jefferson County does not have this problem to nearly as great an extent as much of the rest of our state.
I'm sorry we're going to need a prescription for these medicines in the future. Hey, I take the stuff, too, when I have a cold. My vote would have been a lot tougher were all those other good cold medicines not still available over-the-counter.