A New Option for Eliminating Methamphetamine Labs

The 2014 legislative cycle in a number of states will witness efforts to curtail the methamphetamine labs that cause so much death, destruction and environmental despoliation from West Virginia to Oklahoma. Oregon and Mississippi have proven that putting cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine (e.g., Sudafed) on prescription-only status virtually eliminates meth labs. But other states that have tried to pass similar laws have been overwhelmed year after year by the might of the cold medicine industry, which spends more money on lobbying in meth belt state legislatures than any other (notably, in West Virginia, coal industry lobbyists express envy at the cold medicine industry’s influence).

One of the industry’s central arguments is that people with colds and allergies need PSE and will suffer from reduced access. However, new technologies in medication production render this argument moot. As I describe today at Stanford School of Medicine’s SCOPE Blog, it is entirely possible to write legislation in such a way that meth labs are choked off while access to PSE-containing medications is maintained.

There is thus a policy compromise on the table that could draw diverse support on a hard-fought, important policy issue. That will bring smiles to the faces of decent and intelligent people. But drug policy, like public policy in the U.S. generally, includes a faction of perennially angry people to whom compromise is a dirty word. Expect such ideologues to fight hard against the public interest on this one.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.