Miss. meth law being watched by other states

By Dustin Barnes/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi’s 8-month-old law requiring a physician’s prescription in order to buy medications containing pseudoephedrine has attracted the attention of other states.

Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director Marshall Fisher said he has been contacted by lawmakers in several states, including Tennessee and Arkansas, inquiring about the state’s results from the law designed to curb meth labs.

Pseudoephedrine, a decongestant commonly found in cold and allergy medications, also is a key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine.

MBN statistics show meth lab busts in Mississippi have decreased significantly since the law went into effect July 1. From July 2009 through February 2010, 607 meth labs were seized. From July 2010 to February of this year, the number dropped to 203, a nearly 67 percent decrease.

One reason the number of seizures is not down further is because all four states bordering Mississippi do not have the same law, Fisher said.

“If our four bordering states went (prescription-only), we’d be pushing 90 percent,” he said.

Mississippi and Oregon currently are the only states that require prescriptions for medications containing pseudoephedrine.

Fisher estimated nearly 95 percent to 98 percent of meth labs seized since July 2010 were using pseudoephedrine purchased from another state.

“The reason I’m not making that number right at 100 percent is because we have to assume that some people stockpiled pseudoephedrine before the law went into effect,” Fisher said.

As for the amounts of the meth precursor found in labs before Mississippi’s law took effect, Fisher said he would estimate little if any came from other states.

“Why would they go out of state when they could get it down the street?”

When MBN seizes a meth lab, Fisher said, the first question he asks is “Where’s the pseudoephedrine coming from?”

Fisher said he doesn’t expect sharp falls to continue indefinitely in the state.

“I think we’ll reach a plateau at some point because the other states are still selling pseudoephedrine (over the counter),” he said.

Fisher traveled to West Virginia on March 7 to testify before a legislative committee on the effectiveness of Mississippi’s law, he said.

The proposed West Virginia legislation was defeated in a tie vote, Fisher said.

Similar bills also have been looked at by lawmakers in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

A MBN initiative is to help states requesting more information on Mississippi’s law, Fisher said. Fisher said his trips to other states are paid for by out-of-state law enforcement agencies.

Some states currently have laws in place that electronically track pseudoephedrine-containing medications in a database, but Fisher said that method doesn’t work.

“It’s as worthless as trying to teach card tricks to a chicken,” he said.

In 2005, Mississippi lawmakers established a monitoring system, but with the lack of a central database to corroborate local sales, the effect wasn’t what many had hoped.

One concern about Mississippi’s pseudoephedrine law is that it will hinder law-abiding residents.

“I think it’s ridiculous you have to get a doctor’s prescription,” said Flowood resident Chad Allgood, who has fought seasonal allergies for as long as he can remember.

Aware of the July 1, 2010, start date of the state law, Allgood said he stocked up on allergy medication to get him through the rest of the season.

When his allergies start back this spring, Allgood said, he’d probably wait until his condition was serious enough to warrant a doctor’s visit.

“I don’t go to the doctor a lot,” he explained. “Normally, I would take pseudoephedrine to prevent a sinus infection.”

Some residents have said they’d rather go across state lines to pick up the prescription-only medication in lieu of visiting a doctor, but Fisher warned of a problem in doing that.

“It’s illegal to be in possession of pseudoephedrine in Mississippi without a prescription,” he said.

If someone who goes across state lines is stopped on a routine traffic violation upon returning, for instance, and an officer sees pseudoephedrine inside the car, the person could be arrested, Fisher said.