Safety and OSHA News

Would prescription-only pseudoephedrine cut down on meth use?

A new government report corroborates previous statistics that show methamphetamine use may be rising in the U.S. after dropping for several years.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (PDF) shows the number of meth lab incidents in the U.S. declined from 2002 to 2007, but starting in 2008 they picked up again:

  • In 2002 there were 18,131 meth lab incidents
  • The numbers peaked in 2004 with 24,155
  • They hit a low of 6,951 in 2007,
  • They rose again to 15,314 in 2010 and 13,530 in 2011.

Meth lab incidents are defined as seizures of labs, dump sites, chemicals and glassware.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), lab incidents declined through 2007 because of the implementation of state and federal regulations on the sale of pseudoephedrine (PSE), an ingredient used to make meth that’s commonly found in over-the-counter decongestants.

What happened after 2007? Two things, according to the GAO report:

  • the emergence of a new technique for smaller-scale meth production, and
  • a new method of procuring PSE called “smurfing” — recruiting groups of people to buy the small, legally allowable amount of PSE products at multiple stores that are then aggregated for meth production.

Statistics from drug-testing company Quest Diagnostics showed dramatic drops in meth positives from 2006 to 2008. But rates remained steady in 2009 and 2010.

Several states have implemented an electronic system known as the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) which monitors and limits the amount of products containing PSE that an individual can buy. (We’ve heard about someone in Pennsylvania being denied a Sudafed purchase during cold season because they returned to their pharmacy too soon since their last purchase.)

Beyond monitoring

Two states have taken the next step in trying to reduce the availability of PSE: They’re requiring prescriptions for it.

Oregon started requiring prescriptions in 2006. Mississippi did the same in 2010.

Here are the meth incident trends for both states:

  • Oregon: 632 (2004), 232 (2005), 67 (2006), 11 (2011)
  • Mississippi: 960 (2009), 937 (2010), 321 (2011).

The GAO concludes the prescription-only approach for PSE appears to have contributed to reductions in lab incidents. However, the report notes there’s little information on the effect the prescription requirement has on the public. Bills have been introduced in several more states to require prescriptions for PSE.

Another note: The top states for meth lab incidents aren’t necessarily the same as those in which Quest found the highest percentage of positives.

The top states for meth lab incidents in 2011 were:

  • Tennessee (2,326 incidents)
  • Missouri (2,114)
  • Kentucky (1,758)
  • Indiana (1,437), and
  • Oklahoma (1,006).

The top states for highest rates of meth use according to Quest:

  • Hawaii
  • Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Nevada, and
  • California.
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