Recently, Chicago was named one of the top 100 worst cities in the country for fall allergies by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This recognition reinforces the fact that Illinoisans need convenient and affordable access to cold and allergy remedies like Claritin-D, Allegra-D, and Sudafed. These pseudoephedrine (PSE) medicines are safe, very effective, and have been approved for over-the-counter sale for nearly 40 years by the FDA.
Over 18 million households in America rely on PSE as an affordable, readily available decongestant that brings needed relief — particularly during the cold and allergy season. Despite this, there have been attempts in recent years to make PSE-containing medicines available only via a prescription as an attempt at dealing with occasional diversion of these medicines by drug criminals into methamphetamine. A recent study from Matrix Global Advisors CEO Alex Brill argues that those policies do absolutely nothing to combat the core issue of meth abuse. Brill notes that while meth labs have declined across the country in recent years, the number of people using the drug has remained unchanged. Between 2004 and 2013, meth lab seizures nationwide decreased more than fifty percent; while between 2010 and 2013, the number of people using meth has increased.
While domestic meth production has gone down, the drug has been replaced instead by a cheaper and more potent meth being produced and trafficked into our communities by version that is produced in Mexico and shipped into the United States via drug cartels. Between 2009 and 2014, meth seizures at the Mexican border have increased fivefold. Alarmingly, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican drug cartels supply 90 percent of the meth in the United States.
These facts make clear that lawmakers should not try to fight the meth problem by reducing access to common cold and allergy meth precursors, but instead target demand for illegal drugs by our citizens. This demand is fueled by an easily accessible supply of not only methamphetamine, but a variety of other dangerous drugs brought in by the drug cartels. Cold and allergy medications are not Illinois’ problem. Rather, Illinois — like so many other Midwestern states — has a substance abuse problem. Officials should work with law enforcement to prioritize drug treatment for individuals suffering from addiction and improve interdiction at the border.
Prescription restrictions serve no purpose other than making it more expensive for the hard working citizens of Illinois to obtain the cold and allergy medicine they need. Cost and inconvenience is only the tip of the iceberg associated with this policy. Prescription only policies for PSE also threaten the availability of doctors as patients will begin flooding doctor’s offices with cold and allergy complaints, creating longer wait times for patients suffering from more serious ailments.
Thankfully, Illinois is on the right track. Statewide, Illinois is on pace for a 12 percent reduction in meth labs this year compared to 2014. This success can be attributed to the hard work of pharmacists and law enforcement officers across the state who work together to make sure that PSE does not fall into the hands of meth makers.
Now that home grown meth is on the decline, it’s time our leaders focus on the root of the meth use problem — drug addiction and narcotic trafficking. Until we do, meth abuse will continue to drive families apart and endanger our children.
Garth Reynolds is executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association.
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