Fighting Meth Labs by Making Advil, Claritin and Sudafed Prescription Only

Thursday, September 05, 2013
Don Perdue

Meth labs have become such a problem in some states that politicians decided instead of pouring more funds into counter-narcotics operations by law enforcement, the preferred solution is to restrict the sales of common medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine.


That’s what Mississippi did three years ago, following along after Oregon put pseudoephedrine products like Sudafed, Advil Cold & Sinus, Allegra D and Claritin D back on a prescription-only basis.


Officials in Mississippi claimed removing these medications from over-the-counter sales reduced meth lab incidents by 80%.


Legislators in West Virginia, which has witnessed its meth lab incidents skyrocket, wanted to do the same thing and take the products off store shelves. But the pharmaceutical industry decided to make a stand in the Mountain State, and successfully defeated a bill that called for putting pseudoephedrine products back on prescription.


Some of the biggest pharma companies manufacture these meds, including Johnson & Johnson (Sudafed and Claritin D) and Pfizer (Advil Cold & Sinus). They unleashed a flood of robocalls on West Virginians warning them that the bill would restrict their ability to get the help they need with allergies, colds and flu.


For Democrat Don Perdue, a retired pharmacist and veteran member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who authored the legislation, the opposition was all about protecting Big Pharma’s earnings.


“It’s positively all about profit,” Perdue told the Corporate Crime Reporter. “It has nothing to do with public health. It’s all about protecting their profits. It’s not about individual freedoms. It’s not about whether or not somebody has the ability to access cold medications. It’s not about that.”


Indeed, pseudoephedrine generates $3 billion a year, with 50%-80% of the product used to make meth, according to Perdue. Making that ingredient a prescription-only item would reportedly amount to $1.5 billion to $2 billion in lost sales for the pharmaceutical industry.


The industry countered with its own legislative proposal that maintained the medications’ non-prescription status, but capped the amount of pseudoephedrine products that an individual could buy each year. The companies said they would track those sales with a system (the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx) for free.


Perdue said the NPLEx hasn’t worked in his state because the system can be bypassed, and that meth labs are still a serious concern.


It is clear to him that, for the industry, damage to public health is worth the $1.5 billion in profit. “I absolutely believe that,” Perdue told the Reporter. “I believe the industry is protecting its assets at the expense of the physical wellbeing of the rest of the public.”


The lawmaker plans to reintroduce his bill making the drugs prescription-only during next year’s session.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

West Virginia Takes on Big Pharma (Corporate Crime Reporter)

Russell Mokhiber: Law and order for Big Pharma (Charleston Gazette)

No More Federal Funds to Clean Up Meth Labs (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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