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To fight meth, Lewisburg wants state cold-drug prescription law

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Following a sharp increase of methamphetamine lab busts in Lewisburg, City Council members want state lawmakers to pass a bill that would require a doctor's prescription to purchase a cold medication that's used to cook meth.

Last week, the Lewisburg City Council put its request in a resolution, saying that sales of the sinus medication pseudoephedrine have been linked to a significant increase in meth lab seizures in Greenbrier County and the rest of West Virginia this year.

The resolution states that meth "destroys public health, adds to crime and destroys families."

"We need to continue to be vigilant on this thing and pay attention to what is ruining people's lives," Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester said Wednesday.

Council members acknowledged that curbing access to pseudoephedrine wouldn't necessarily stop meth abuse, but the prescription requirement "could have a huge impact in reducing crimes, burns, toxic waste and other problems associated with meth labs," according to the resolution.

Within the past two months, Lewisburg police have seized five meth labs -- more than were discovered in all of last year, the mayor said.

In Greenbrier County, law enforcement agencies reported 11 meth lab busts from January through June 30, according to West Virginia State Police data.

Statewide, police have seized more than 300 of the clandestine labs, setting a pace that could double last year's total.

"You start to wonder if this is the tip of the iceberg, and if it's going to be something bigger than we thought," Manchester said.

 State lawmakers have twice introduced legislation -- in 2011 and 2012 -- to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, better known under brand names such as Sudafed, Actifed and Claritin-D, but legislators rejected both bills after drug industry and retail store representatives lobbied against the proposals.

Lewisburg officials hope similar bills are introduced during the next legislative session, which starts in January.

"It's a statewide problem," Manchester said. "It needs to be looked at on a statewide basis."

In January, West Virginia pharmacies started reporting pseudoephedrine sales through a computerized tracking system called NPLEx. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 2012 substance-abuse bill mandated the system, which drug industry lobbyists promised would curb methamphetamine production.

However, Kanawha County Deputy Sheriff Mike Rutherford said NPLEx hasn't helped deputies find any meth labs. About 100 labs have been reported in Kanawha County this year -- five times more than in any other county in West Virginia.

NPLEx blocks people from purchasing pseudoephedrine once they reach monthly and yearly limits set by state law.

In Greenbrier County, NPLEx has blocked the sale of 131 boxes of pseudoephedrine since January -- about 3 percent of the 4,300 boxes sold.

"[NPLEx] is necessary, but it's not sufficient to deal with the problem," Manchester said.

Manchester said meth addicts who live outside Lewisburg's city limits come to town to buy meth-making supplies and cook the illegal drug.

The city has 12 police officers, and meth lab busts "take up a lot of resources and time . . . " the mayor said Wednesday.

"No one is spared from this, from small towns to large cities to rural areas of the state," Manchester said.

The city's resolution cites two states -- Oregon and Mississippi -- that have passed laws that make pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

In Oregon, meth lab incidents dropped from 501 to 11, just a year after the prescription law passed in 2006. In Mississippi, meth-related arrests fell 62 percent and meth lab seizures declined by 67 percent following passage of a similar law in 2010.

"Oregon and Mississippi have adopted an approach that dramatically reduces the manufacture of methamphetamine by requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine," according to the resolution.

In West Virginia, pharmacies keep the nasal decongestant and allergy medication behind the counter. Customers must show an ID to purchase pseudoephedrine.

Lewisburg's resolution also notes that medications containing pseudoephedrine were available only by prescription until 1976, the year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration waived the requirement.

Lewisburg council members approved the resolution by a unanimous vote on Aug. 20.

Earlier this year, House health committee Chairman Don Perdue asked Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to investigate how much pseudoephedrine is being diverted to manufacture meth in West Virginia. Perdue, D-Wayne, also asked Morrisey to take legal action against any companies that turn a blind eye to the problem.

Morrisey, who lobbied for a drug distributor trade association before taking office in January, won't say if he will take up Perdue's request. Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, lobbies in Washington, D.C., for the nation's second-largest drug distributor.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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