Indiana has many societal problems. One of the most intractable is the use of methamphetamine. It destroys families, ruins lives and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in law enforcement and meth cleanup efforts.
Pseudoephedrine is one of the three main ingredients required to make meth. With advancing technology, the legislature worked with the pharmacy industry to create an online system that tracks 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.
Hoosiers have debated the best strategy for reducing the scourge of meth. 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 the media and, through them, our fellow Hoosiers about the meth issue.
I am very disappointed to see that some of our law enforcement friends have been making statements that are flat out not accurate. It is time to set the record straight.
Myth: 70 to 90 percent of pseudoephedrine 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 state of Kentucky, suggests that about 2 percent of the drug is diverted to make meth. That means 98 percent is used for its lawful purpose — treating cold and allergy symptoms.
Myth: Oregon and Mississippi are models because meth labs were reduced dramatically after they made pseudoephedrine a prescription-only product.
Truth: Law enforcement has known for years that this is not true. Oregon and all the states surrounding it experienced a reduction in meth labs well before Oregon made the drug prescription-only. The reason? An influx of Mexican meth that made it easier to get, and a new federal law that put the products behind the pharmacy counter.
Mississippi’s former governor, Hailey Barbour, has said that if online tracking technology had been available when his state considered the issue, they never would have made the drug prescription-only.
Myth: The “retail industry” is fighting law enforcement’s effort to make the drug prescription-only because it fears loss of profits.
Truth: The retail industry has 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 making it prescription-only makes no sense. It will drive up health care costs for working Hoosier families and will not dent the problem.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, prescription drug abuse is America’s No. 1 drug problem. Prescription-only would simply shift the meth problem to doctors and punish the 98 percent of law-abiding Hoosiers for the sins of the 2 percent who make or use meth.
Myth: The online tracking system is not working.
Truth: It tracks every sale of pseudoephedrine in Indiana, and last year blocked more than 60,000 potential sales. Police across the state say that the system is a valuable tool that has helped them catch meth criminals.
It will take cooperation among law enforcement, the medical community and the counseling community to educate, treat and enforce. 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 the tracking system 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,
Franciscan St. Francis Health,
former Indiana public health commissioner