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February 15, 2014

FLASHPOINT: Manufactured statistics, exaggerated claims make meth battle more difficult

Indiana has many societal problems. One of the most serious is the use of methamphetamine. Meth destroys families, ruins lives and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in law enforcement and meth cleanup efforts.

Hoosiers have debated the best strategy for reducing the scourge of meth for many years. As technology advanced, the legislature joined a number of other states to implement an online system that tracks and blocks sales of pseudoephedrine, and prevents people from purchasing more than their legal limit. It also provides real-time data to police so that they can enforce our laws.

We can agree to disagree on strategy and tactics in the war on meth. The one thing upon which I hope we can all agree, is the absolute necessity to be forthright and accurate about the information we provide our fellow Hoosiers, about the meth issue.

I am very disappointed to see that some advocates for a pseudoephedrine prescription requirement have been making a number of misleading or outright false claims to advance their cause.

It is time to set the record straight:

Myth: 70-90 percent of PSE sales in Indiana are diverted to make meth.

Truth: There is no empirical evidence to prove that. The only independent study to date, conducted by the research arm of the Kentucky Legislature, suggests that about 2 percent of PSE is diverted to make meth.

Myth: Oregon and Mississippi — the only two states that have passed prescription requirements — are models, because meth labs were reduced dramatically after they made pseudoephedrine a prescription-only product.

Truth: The Oregon-based Cascade Policy Institute published a study in 2012, which found that Oregon’s recent decline in meth lab incidents began well before the state passed its prescription-only law in 2006. Cascade also studied several of Oregon’s neighboring states, none of which have a prescription requirement, and found similar rates of meth lab decline.

The likely reason? The constant influx of Mexican-made meth into the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, at least 80 percent of American meth comes from Mexico. For that, and other reasons, Oregon law enforcement reported last year that meth remains the state’s greatest drug threat. They also report that meth-related crime such as identity theft, abused and neglected children, and serious property continue to be a daily problem and is prevalent throughout the state.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, law enforcement officials and newspaper articles frequently report on that state’s continued struggle with meth-related crime across the state, despite the state’s prescription requirement. According to the DEA agent in charge, in Gulfport, Miss., meth lab incidents have actually increased in that part of the state. In neighboring Alabama, there were so many cases of Mississippians coming into the state to buy pseudoephedrine-based products, that Alabama lawmakers were compelled to ban the purchase of those products by out-of-state residents.

Myth: the retail industry and pharmaceutical industries are fighting law enforcement’s effort to make PSE prescription-only because they fear loss of profits.

Truth: The retail and pharmaceutical industries have joined with the Indiana State Medical Association, the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians, the AFL-CIO, the Indiana Pharmacists Alliance, and the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, among others, to tell our legislators that requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine products is not sound policy. It will drive up health care costs for working Hoosier families, and will not address the root causes of the meth problem.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, prescription drug abuse is America’s No. 1 drug threat. A prescription requirement for pseudoephedrine products would simply shift the meth problem to doctors, and punish the vast majority of law-abiding Hoosiers who buy those products for their intended use.

Myth: The online tracking system is not working.

Truth: The online system tracks every sale of pseudoephedrine in Indiana, and last year blocked more than 60,000 sales. Police across the state say that NPLEX is a valuable tool that has helped them catch meth criminals. They can receive alerts on their mobile phones or via email when suspects attempt to buy pseudoephedrine-based products.

So, which strategy to combat meth will work best? It will take cooperation among law enforcement, the medical community and the counseling community to educate the public and enforce our existing laws. Some good things are happening. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined retailers, prosecutors, mayors and pharmacists to launch a statewide anti-smurfing education campaign at 1,000 pharmacies. Law enforcement is learning how to use NPLEX effectively. Treatment programs are working.

It does no one any good to exaggerate claims, manufacture statistics or ignore the input of Indiana’s medical community when trying to fight meth.

We are all Hoosiers. Let’s work together.

— Dr. Richard Feldman, M.D., Former Indiana Public Health Commissioner

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