CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's meth curse nearly doubled last year. Police found 533 of the illegal dope-cooking labs statewide, up from 288 the previous year. Kanawha County led the sorry tally with 159 labs.
"It's an epidemic, a cancer and a scourge on the state," Kanawha Commission President Kent Carper told Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre.
Crystal meth addiction ruins young West Virginians and their families, fills jails with abusers and poisons motel rooms and rented apartments where the toxic narcotic is brewed. Cleaning up a tainted lab site can cost a landlord as much as $17,000 -- and many of them seek repayment from the state Crime Victims Fund.
Since the number of labs skyrocketed in 2013, it's obvious that West Virginia's computer system that tracks pharmacy sales of cold remedies isn't solving the crisis.
As long as criminal drug-makers can send "smurf" stooges to pharmacies to buy over-the-counter pseudoephedrine packets like Sudafed and Claritin-D, then convert the pills into a habit-forming narcotic, the illicit racket will thrive.
The only real cure for this mess is to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine purchases. Two states that utilize this safeguard enjoyed huge reductions in meth labs. But pharmaceutical flacks (like state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a former drug lobbyist), argue that it would be inconvenient to force multitudes of sinus sufferers to make doctor visits.
That argument was deflated by Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre, who found that only 2 percent of West Virginians buy as many as three packages of the decongestants per year. Also, Charleston physician-pharmacist Bradley Henry said most doctors simply phone in prescriptions for such simple medications, without requiring patients to make office visits.
Also, Dr. Henry says Sudafed-type pills have little effect, reducing symptoms by a mere 6 percent.
New tamper-resistant cold pills are coming on the market. They're worthless to criminals who want pills to convert into illegal dope. A reform bill currently before the Legislature would require prescriptions for most pseudoephedrine -- but allow tamper-resistant brands to remain available over-the-counter.
One of the brands, Nexafed, published newspaper ads saying its usage will "help deter meth production in your community." Fruth pharmacies switched to tamper-resistant pills "to help cut back the availability of meth-making medications to criminals."
The state Board of Pharmacy supports the prescription solution for the meth nightmare.
Officers of the Kanawha County Metro Drug Unit likewise support it. "We can't keep up with the meth lab crisis," Detective Clark Green said. "If all it takes to help us with this problem is to put pseudoephedrine behind the counter, we need to do it."
Go for it, we say. If more states adopt the prescription strategy against meth labs, we predict that all Big Pharma corporations will begin producing sniffle cures that can't be used by drug lords.