A legislative study committee is recommending that North Carolina become the third state to require a prescription to buy cold medicine that contains pseudophedrine. The argument is that similar laws in Mississippi and Oregon have resulted in a marked decrease in “meth lab incidents.”

Just one problem — the number of “meth lab incidents” started dropping before Oregon pasted its law. As Scott Mooneyham observes:

According to the numbers, the incidents in Oregon dropped from 50 in 2006, when its prescription-only law took effect, to only a handful today. In Mississippi, the incidents dropped from about 700 in 2010 to around 250 in 2011.

Other than law enforcement reviews, there doesn’t appear to have been a hard look at the numbers in Mississippi.

That is not the case in Oregon.

Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market advocacy think tank similar to this state’s John Locke Foundation, commissioned its own study this year looking at the Oregon law.

The study pointed out that Oregon’s dramatic drop in meth lab incidents had actually begun two years before the prescription-only law was passed. In 2004, there had been more than 400 meth lab incidents, compared to 50 in year that the law went into effect.

My John Locke Foundation colleague Jon Sanders has a column out today on this issue as well. He writes in part:

In sum, the meth addicts keep on — addiction being what addiction is — finding ways to feed their addiction. A negative side effect of the tougher laws is that the new ways are increasingly dangerous to users and nonusers alike.

The heavy traffickers aren’t stopped by laws preventing them from stocking up at the corner drug store. They just get more supplies from Mexican narcotics labs.

Cold sufferers? They are the ones jumping through hoops. Already they’re having to purchase formerly effective cold medicines that have replaced pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine, whose effectiveness in treating cold and allergy symptoms rivals that of ye aulde sugar pille. Now, apparently, legislators are considering forcing them — all of us, really — to go to the doctor (at cost of time and money) to get a prescription for formerly OTC medication.

But cheer up, Carolina cold sufferer. Have you considered what all that means? The next time you sneeze, you could save the money you might have spent on a state-sanctioned, glorified placebo. You could just as effectively treat your cold with the thought that the same laws making you unable to purchase an effective cold treatment hassle-free are enriching some drug lord south of the border. Bless you!