RALEIGH, N.C. — A legislative panel on Wednesday suggested requiring a prescription for cold remedies containing one of the main ingredients used to make methamphetamine.
Lawmakers in 2005 ordered North Carolina pharmacies to put medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter to make it more difficult for people to use them to cook up meth. Last year, pharmacists began entering customer names into a national database when they buy the medicines to alert them to anyone buying large quantities of the drug.
The changes have done little to stem the proliferation of home labs that produce meth, a potent stimulant that can be made with over-the-counter household products, often leaving behind a toxic mess.
According to the State Bureau of Investigation, law enforcement has busted a record 444 labs statewide so far this year – 100 more than the previous record, set in 2011. Wilkes County, in the mountains in the northwest part of the state, has had the most busts this year at 58, followed by Wayne County in the east at 27.
"We're seeing more fires, more explosions and more injuries because of this," said Van Shaw, who oversees the SBI's clandestine meth lab unit. "That gives you an idea of how simple it is, how readily available the products are and the fact that it's very mobile."
Oregon and Mississippi have already passed laws making Sudafed and other drugs containing pseudoephedrine available only by prescription. In Mississippi, the number of meth labs busted dropped from 200 last year to five this year, officials said.
Local shopper Narda Redman said she worries about the inconvenience and the cost of getting health care providers involved in cold remedies.
"If you don't have health insurance and you can't get it over the counter, then what are you going to do?" Redman asked. "We're paying the price for people who are trying to get a fix."
Rep. Craig Horn, chairman of the House Select Committee on Methamphetamine Abuse, said the idea will be a tough sell in the General Assembly next year, but he argued that drastic measures are needed to combat meth labs.
"We can do something about it that may inconvenience a few people, and I'm sorry for that – I really am. But seat belts inconvenienced people, and they saved hundreds of thousands of lives," said Horn, R-Union. "Do we just have to have more dead bodies? Or are we going to do something when we know there's an action that works?"
In addition to requiring prescriptions, lawmakers also are expected to consider ideas such as new limits on the amount of Sudafed consumers can buy and tougher penalties for manufacturing meth when children are present.