Prescription for Cold Meds Won't Fix the Meth Problem

Blocking sales in real time is more effective

By BRIDGET LAMBERT

THE retail industry in West Virginia represents more than 21,000 businesses, over 162,000 employees and serves hundreds of thousands of customers.

One of the goals of the West Virginia Retailers Association is to make sure we contribute to a vibrant business climate by keeping our customers happy and ensuring that they have access to the products they need. I write to add our perspective to the recent debate — which has included some inaccurate news coverage — regarding the proposal to require a doctor’s prescription for safe and effective cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine — medicines like Advil Cold & Sinus, Allegra-D, Claritin-D, Mucinex D, and Sudafed.

First, we recognize that methamphetamine addiction is insidious and a serious problem in our state. We do not want to discount the efforts made by law enforcement or policymakers to battle the meth problem, and we remain committed to working together toward a solution.

However, we want to make sure that facts — not anecdotes — drive policymaking.

The truth is that a prescription mandate will not cure our meth problem, but it will hurt West Virginia businesses and severely inconvenience customers.

The only common sense approach to battling meth is to deploy a real-time, stop-sale system across the state.

Part of the beauty of our wonderful state is that we still have small towns with local pharmacies that serve the needs of their communities. If medicines containing pseudoephedrine were to be made prescription-only, these momand- pop businesses are the ones that would be hurt.

We have five neighboring states, and statistics show that a PSE mandate simply drives customers across the border.

This has happened in Missouri, where sales in Bridgeton jumped 81 percent after St. Charles County passed a prescription requirement.

For the most part, those were law-abiding citizens who found it more convenient to do their shopping in a place where they could buy what they needed — including popular and reliable products containing pseudoephedrine.

A prescription requirement will drive customers away and hurt the mom-and-pop businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy.

Thankfully there is a way to tackle meth without hurting businesses and inconveniencing customers — by using an electronic technology system.

Nineteen states already use a real-time, stop-sale system that works much like a credit card transaction. The system allows a store clerk to enter the necessary information into the database and receive a quick response in real-time that will tell them whether or not to proceed with the sale.

Checkout is actually quicker than with the current system (where a hard copy is checked) and much more reliable.

Most importantly, this type of real-time, stop-sale system collects data for law enforcement officials so they can target those individuals who attempted to purchase more than their legal limit for the purpose of manufacturing and using meth. It is worth noting that while two states have implemented a prescription mandate, there is data to support that implementing real-time, stop-sale technology is more effective than requiring a prescription.

Mississippi, which adopted a prescription mandate in June of 2010, has not experienced as significant a drop in lab rates as neighboring Alabama, which adopted a real-time, stop-sale system in January of 2011.

While we certainly appreciate all the hard work that has gone into promoting the prescription mandate, we believe it’s the wrong solution to a problem that needs to be addressed.

Let’s work together to bring real-time, stop-sale technology to West Virginia so that taking drugs off the street doesn’t hurt folks on Main Street and their law-abiding consumers.  Lambert is president of the West Virginia Retailers Association.