Tuesday, June 22, 2010

CHI Supports Industry Effort to Curb Illicit Methamphetamine Production
Illicit crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth) production has become a huge problem across the United States, particularly in California. While many other states outrank California for the overall number of meth labs, California has more super laboratories (labs which are capable of producing 10 lbs. of meth or more per cook) were than any other state in the country. In 2008, 13 of the 14 superlabs were in California. Sacramento was one of the top five cited destinations when law enforcement seized meth from smugglers. It was the only city in California to make the top five list.

Meth is cooked using ingredients commonly found around the home, including cough and cold medication, household batteries, rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, table salt, ammonia, nail polish remover, lye, just to name a few. Certain cough and cold medications contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine (PSE), which when reduced down to its base chemical components is a key ingredient in crystal meth production.

Last year, the California Legislature considered a bill, SB 484 by Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood) that would have required a prescription for PSE. CHI opposed this proposal, as PSE is a safe and effective remedy for cold and allergy sufferers, when used as directed. If a prescription were required for PSE, uninsured Californians would have no access to the products, the state’s Medi-Cal program would have to assume the costs for PSE prescriptions for enrollees, and insured Californians would have to go to the doctor for a consultation to receive a prescription. Additionally, the state, already facing a dire budget shortfall, would lose sales tax dollars as prescription drugs cannot be taxed in California, while over-the-counter remedies can.

While we strongly stand by our conviction that requiring prescriptions for PSE is bad health policy, we also recognize the scourge that crystal meth brings to communities across the state. Crystal meth is a highly addictive drug that activates the brain’s reward pathways, releasing massive quantities of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, creating a sense of euphoria while heightening physical sensation. At the same time, the drug blocks chemicals in the bloodstream that would otherwise break down crystal meth. As a result, it can stay in a user’s system for more than 12 hours. Prolonged meth use can result in decomposition of the teeth, severe cardiovascular damage, stroke, heart attack, and even death. Aside from the physical toll, a 2009 study by the RAND Corporation showed that in 2005, crystal meth use cost society $23 billion in costs from increased healthcare costs to lost productivity.

In order to address this vexing problem, CHI and our member companies that produce PSE agreed to an alternative to the Wright bill. Our solution, AB 1455 by Asm. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) would require that PSE sales be tracked in a real-time database to ensure that current restrictions on the amount an individual can purchase are enforced. Under federal law, individuals can purchase a maximum of 3.6 grams of PSE a single day, or 9 grams total per month. The real-time database will be paid for by a fee on products that contain PSE.

The National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, is a system that works seamlessly across all participating states to ensure that meth cooks cannot just cross state lines to evade the law. Currently, 10 states use NPLEx, with a handful more slated to come online in the next few years. Opponents, who favored the prescription approach, have pointed out privacy concerns with a database like NPLEx, and our industry took amendments to address these concerns. The amendments require that data be purged after two months (the required time to maintain logs under federal law), require security standards be in place for the database, limit use of the data to open criminal investigations by law enforcement, and inform consumers at the time of sale that the information being collected will be on record and available to law enforcement for up to two months.

E-tracking for PSE sales is an innovative solution that ensures patient access to safe and effective remedies for cold and allergy symptoms remain readily available, while preventing the sale of PSE products in large quantities to those who would use it for illicit purposes. NPLEx has been used to identify and shut down more than 70 percent of the meth labs that are raided in that state, and a Florida pilot project with NPLEx reduced illegal sales by more than 90 percent.

If you would like more information on e-tracking for PSE, please visit http://www.stopmethnotmeds.com. If you live in California, take the time to post your support of AB 1455 (Hill) on your legislator’s Facebook Fan Page, or submit a letter to their office in the state capitol. More information on how to do that can also be found at http://www.stopmethnotmeds.com.

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