John Locke Update / Research Newsletter

Try not to catch cold in NC, please; we have meth-heads

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The Associated Press is reporting, "NC lawmakers to consider tougher laws on meth." That’s intriguing news because this year saw new, tougher laws on meth, and they were supposedly having great effect. What would the new, tougher-than-tough laws do?

The AP reports (with emphasis added),

A House committee is meeting Wednesday to discuss recommendations for the 2013 legislative session, which begins Jan. 30. Among the possibilities is requiring a prescription for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making meth.

Oh. Oh! So really, the lawmakers plan to consider tougher laws on cold medicine. Just like last year’s tougher laws on cold medicine. Take that, small group of meth-heads. Tough luck, vast majority of cold and allergy sufferers. If you want to buy an over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicine, you’re going to have to see a doctor first. What do you mean, that defeats the whole point of OTC medicines?

The unfortunate reality is that methamphetamine, as destructive as it is, is not only highly addictive, but also relatively easy to manufacture. Pseudoephedrine is a "key ingredient" in making meth, but can the rotting addicts make meth without it? Yes — and that’s why "fighting meth" by putting cold sufferers (i.e., pretty much everyone in society in any given year) through the wringer is poor public policy.

As discussed in a previous newsletter, the key ingredient to making meth depends on the policies in effect. A quick summary on that point:

  • Originally meth makers used phenyl-2-propanone, which was restricted in the 1980s.
  • Next they moved over to ephedrine, until the late ’90s when large quantities were restricted.
  • So the next move was to pseudoephedrine, and regulators have reacted accordingly, trying to restrict access to pseudoephedrine. (Anyone remember John Edwards’s campaign to limit access to over-the-counter cold medicine?)
  • Now meth-makers are adopting new methods that require very small amounts of pseudoephedrine and personal "laboratories" so small they can fit (at great personal risk, of course) on the passenger seat of a car, in a purse, or even in some idiot’s pants.
  • They can also switch to methylamine and the amino acid phenylalanine, and there was the curious case of the woman arrested in the Oklahoma Wal-Mart mixing meth on a store shelf using, among other things, sulfuric acid, drain cleaner, and lithium, but not pseudoephedrine

In sum, the meth addicts continue — addiction being what addiction is — to find ways to feed their addiction (by increasingly dangerous means). 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 are the ones jumping through hoops. Or worse, they’re resorting to purchasing 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.

But cheer up, Carolina cold sufferer, have you considered what that means? The next time you sneeze, you could save the money you might have spent on a state-sanctioned, glorified placebo and 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!

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Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As Director of Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jon gets into the weeds in all kinds of policy areas, including electricity, occupational licensing, hydraulic… ...

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