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In meth war, W.Va. can learn from Mississippi

West Virginia lawmakers who might be on the fence about a bill that would require that medications containing pseudoephedrine be available by prescription only can take heart after receiving a letter from former Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who said they’d be unlikely to lose their seat for voting in favor of the measure, which in Mississippi has proven devastatingly effective at reducing the prevalence of methamphetamine labs there.

Barbour, who served as governor of Mississippi from 2004 to 2012, sent a letter to West Virginia legislators last week urging them to pass the prescription-only bill now before the House of Delegates.

The bill has already passed the West Virginia Senate.

Barbour told lawmakers the Magnolia State’s passage of legislation barring over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine has resulted in a 98 percent decline in meth labs, that the new law did not spark complaints from state residents, didn’t affect the re-elections of lawmakers and more importantly, it didn’t drive up health care costs, the bugaboo currently being spoon-fed legislators by industry lobbyists eager to see the bill fail.

He called the bipartisan legislation most likely “the most significant drug enforcement legislation in the history of Mississippi.” Barbour’s letter couldn’t have come at a better time; according to a report this week in The Charleston Gazette, the electronic tracking system and industry-backed method West Virginia lawmakers signed onto in 2012 as a way to curb the spread of meth labs is failing badly.

According to the Gazette, last month the National Precursor Log Exchange was blocking just 2.4 percent of pseudoephedrine purchases statewide, a 72 percent decrease since May when it was blocking only 6.4 percent of all sales. Police busted 533 meth labs in West Virginia in 2013, nearly twice as many as uncovered in 2012.

Delegate Don Perdue, a Wayne County Democrat, says NPLex isn’t as smart as the criminals buying pseudoephedrine — they’ve figured out that inquiring about their eligibilty to buy before making a purchase doesn’t get registered in the tracking system’s database and they’re also making better use of smurf buyers.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper has called the drug industry’s NPLex a system that was designed to fail. Amazingly, it’s a bill like the one Mississippi passed and is seeing great success with and not the failing NPLex that Mingo County Democrat Justin Marcum likens to a Band-Aid, sharply illustrating the uphill battle lawmakers like Perdue and Wood County Republican John Ellem face in marshaling support for the legislation in the House.

If Barbour’s letter won’t sway delegates, maybe this will: the federal government has scrapped its meth lab cleanup reimbursement program, while the state Senate last week approved a bill that exempts meth lab cleanups from the state Crime Victims Compensation Fund. That bill awaits a vote by the House.

Making this cold medication — the bill exempts “tamper-resistant” medicines that aren’t easily converted to meth — available by prescription only is a sensible response to combatting the growth of meth production in the state. West Virginia has already tried it the drug industry’s way. That hasn’t worked. It’s time to do this the right way.




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