The brewing legislative battle appears to pit law enforcement officials against drug companies that argue the change would be an undue burden on law-abiding allergy-sufferers. The bill’s proponents counter that the meth epidemic outweighs inconvenience.
Officials with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs contend that tracking pseudoephedrine sales, which the state has done since 2004, has limited impact. While the agency credits tracking with having blocked 76,000 would-be sales last year alone, clandestine meth labs continue to pop up with increasing frequency. OBN agents bust an average of 75 labs each month, totaling 900 by the end of 2011.
“We’ve tried everything else. Our tracking system is the best in the nation, but it doesn’t prove someone has committed a crime,” said OBN spokesman Mark Woodward. “The [meth] cooks aren’t buying it themselves. They pay someone who needs to make some quick cash, $50 to buy them a box [of medicine containing pseudoephedrine].”
right, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics director Darrell Weaver
That reality was evident last November, when OBN participated in the largest drug sting in Oklahoma history. Over a five-day period, law enforcement arrested 334 people in a dozen pharmacies for buying pseudoephedrine for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine.
What track to take
“I vehemently disagree that tracking is the answer — it doesn’t work,” said OBN Director Darrell Weaver. “The public is being very disillusioned by the drug companies. Tracking actually encourages bad guys to circumvent the system.”
He and other supporters of the measure point to Oregon and Mississippi, states that have seen a significant drop in meth-related crime after passing similar measures.
“If passed, this will be collaterally positive,” Weaver said. “It will drive crime rates down to a 50-year low. This is about profit versus public safety.”
Pharmacies appear split on HB 1235 and a similar Senate measure authored by Kim David, R-Wagoner.
“I certainly don’t have a problem if it went prescription-only. To be honest, it’s kind of a pain to sell it over the counter,” said J. Black, owner of Nichols Hills Drug. “If it’s going to curb the abuse of it, I’m all for it.”
But Dani Lynch, owner of Thrifty Pharmacy in OKC, is skeptical.
“I am not a fan of the bill. It won’t fix the problem,” she said. “The tracking system needs to be in all states and communication between the states is important.”
and other opponents of the measure want Oklahoma to join the National
Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, which links together states in the
tracking of pseudoephedrine sales. While Oklahoma has its own tracking
system, law enforcement cannot check whether a person has purchased
large quantities of pseudoephedrine in a neighboring state.
There are other concerns about making the medication prescription-only. Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, a family-practice physician, said problems are likely to arise when people must visit a doctor every time they need Sudafed.
right, J. Black, owner of Nichols Hills Drug
“With the huge physician shortage, [the proposed legislation] is going to overburden an already overburdened system with more office visits for patients and the costs they’re going to have to incur,” said Ritze. “I don’t think we really are prepared to know what that is, but I’ve gotten feedback from other states where the citizens — the honest citizens — are outraged because they had to do this.”
Ritze said he doubts a prescription would help curb meth use.
“I understand that law enforcement is convinced it’s going to be a quick fix. It’s not going to be a quick fix,” he said. “Punish the ones that are doing it, throw the book at them.”
But Sherrer said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances this legislation session, which begins Feb. 6.
argue that this is too much legislation, but it’s not uncommon to
regulate in the interest of public safety,” he said. “I remain hopeful
that the Legislature will act in the interest of the people.”
Photos by Mark Hancock and Shannon Cornman