So far, it appears that West Virginia's attempt to halt "meth" addiction through pharmacy sales tracking is a flop. The number of meth labs seized by police has doubled since the new tracking system was imposed Jan. 1. The curse of addiction has skyrocketed, especially in Kanawha County.
Two years ago, health crusaders like former state Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, urged that doctor prescriptions be required for over-the-counter cold remedies such as Sudafed that contain pseudoephedrine. Criminals send stooges to buy armloads of the pills, cook them in homemade methamphetamine labs, then peddle the strong narcotic to pathetic addicts.
But the pharmaceutical industry -- which makes fat profits from cold remedy sales feeding the illegal labs -- bombarded the Legislature with high-paid lobbyists to obstruct the prescription plan. Instead, they urged West Virginia to join an industry-backed tracking system called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) that records over-the-counter pill sales at pharmacies.
Various voices warned that NPLEx doesn't work. West Virginia Wesleyan political professor Robert Rupp said Kentucky used NPLEx and suffered a 250 percent rise in meth labs -- while Mississippi and Oregon required prescriptions and enjoyed an 80 percent drop in labs.
But the pharmaceutical lobbyists earned their high pay. The Legislature narrowly scuttled prescriptions and adopted tracking, which began in January.
Since then, results have been dismaying. A total of 332 meth labs were seized in the first half of 2013, compared to 288 in all of 2012. Kanawha County alone accounted for more than 100 of the illegal cookers so far this year.
"The growth of meth labs has been phenomenal," House Health Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said. He urged new Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to investigate to learn how much cold remedy medicine is diverted into illegal narcotics. Some national studies estimate the rate as high as 80 percent. But Morrisey -- formerly a Washington lobbyist for billion-dollar medical interests -- hasn't replied.
Drugstore operators say NPLEx is helping. Bridgett Lambert of the state retailers association told Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre that the tracking system blocked the sale of 11,635 boxes of cold remedies in West Virginia since January -- 4,584 in Kanawha County.
That's good -- but the lab nightmare has doubled, regardless. The Legislature should reconsider prescriptions, and also consider requiring pseudoephedrine to be sold only in gel form, which thwarts meth labs.
Too many West Virginia lives are being destroyed by this ugly narcotic menace.