Narcotics agents want cold medicine restrictions

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Dangerous and epidemic are just two words narcotics officials use to describe meth use in Mississippi. They want the legislature to help stop meth manufacturing by restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine, the decongestant used to make meth.

Cold medicine lines the shelves at the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Pascagoula. Since 2006, pharmacist Scott Holston said, pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth, hasn't been among them.

"They passed an act in 2006 called the Combat Meth Act," Holston said. "And it restricts people from buying more than 3.6 grams per day, or up to 9 grams per month."

Holston said he follows the law closely and even before it was passed, didn't hesitate to deny someone the drug. Despite efforts like Holston's, records indicate meth is on the rise in Mississippi.

State and local officials said 2009 was the first year meth arrests exceeded cocaine arrests both in Jackson County and across the state.

"Crystal Methamphetamine is the single largest threat to public safety and public health in Mississippi," said Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director Marshall Fisher.

"It's not just here in Mississippi," said Jackson County Narcotics Task Force Commander Curtis Spiers.  "I'd venture to say across the United States, meth is a cancer that continues to grow."

Statements like these have caused state legislators to step up the war on meth by placing heavier restrictions on pseudoephedrine. Several bills sit in the state legislature that would make pseudoephedrine a "Schedule III" drug, and therefore available only with a prescription.

"Schedule III drug would really limit it only of course to pharmacies," Holston said. "Grocery stores, convenience stores wouldn't be able to sell it. Our paperwork really wouldn't change because we're already keeping a registered log of who we sell to and who we don't. So we probably sell more on prescription right now than we do over the counter anyway."

Spiers said he believes the proposal would help combat the meth epidemic.

"I think it's a start," Spiers said. "They've done the same thing in Oregon in 2007, and the following year they went from 473 meth labs to 20 meth labs, so you can see a drastic reduction."

But Spiers thinks restrictions shouldn't stop at the state line. He hopes our neighbors will consider scheduling pseudoephedrine as well.

"From where we're sitting here [in Pascagoula], we're 10 minutes away from the Alabama border and another 40 minutes from the Florida state line," Spiers said. "So, people are still going to cross borders to try to get [pseudoephedrine]. I think some national referendum on a nationwide scale is going to ultimately be probably the goal."

If the measure passes, statewide or nationally, pharmacists like Holston are ready to help uphold it.

"If it will help us curtail the drug problem, then I don't see a problem with doing what we need to do to help," Holston said.

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