The epidemic of illegal drug abuse is one of the most difficult challenges facing our communities. Our region’s harrowing experience with opioids has been well documented and remains an ongoing struggle for those who are addicted and their families. Increasingly, the scourge of methamphetamine abuse has grown alongside opioids as a destructive force tearing apart our communities.
A recent article sounded the alarm with a headline that read, “Fewer start using heroin, but young adults use meth more.” It was then reported that the newly released National Survey on Drug Use and Health found a “big jump in meth” use among the 18- to 25-year-old age group. In that article, the CEO of Transitions, Northern Kentucky’s largest drug treatment and recovery organization, called meth “magnetic” to those suffering from addiction, since it is cheap and readily available. Meanwhile, a report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy stated that meth now contributes to more than a quarter of all drug overdose deaths.
While the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force reports that much of the meth coming into our region is pure and from over the U.S southern border, meth cooking remains a problem. The key ingredient for cooking meth is pseudoephedrine, which is found in cold and sinus medications. Those medications are purchased for meth cooks at pharmacies by “smurfers”— multiple purchasers, each with multiple identities, who circumvent purchasing restrictions and obtain large quantities of pseudoephedrine. The pseudoephedrine is then extracted and used by meth cooks in a chemical process that is dangerous and sometimes deadly.
Oftentimes, the meth is cooked in homes where children are present, with harmful or even deadly outcomes. Last month, a Kentucky teenager made headlines for calling the police on his parents to report their meth-making activities that were making him sick from the toxic fumes. In another instance, a Kentucky toddler suffered horribly and died when he drank sulfuric acid left over from a meth lab in his home.
We must attack a crisis this severe from every possible angle. Law enforcement has been vigilant in cracking down on meth labs and drug trafficking. But as long as pseudoephedrine products are sold that can be used to make meth, meth labs will remain a problem. Furthermore, as President Donald Trump increases border security measures that stem the flow of meth made in Mexico, drug dealers will increasingly seek to meet the demand by making meth locally in our communities.
A solution to this problem is pseudoephedrine medications that are meth-deterrent, such as Nexafed. Such medications offer the same medicinal benefit as Sudafed and Claritin D to people suffering from colds and allergies but are created using technological advancements that are proven to prevent tampering by meth cooks.
If pharmacists would choose to sell meth-deterrent pseudoephedrine instead of those medications that are commonly used to make meth, then meth-cooking in the U.S. would come to an end. In fact, dramatic drops in meth production have been achieved in other states, such as West Virginia, where many pharmacy retailers have chosen to only stock the meth-deterrent medications.
Solutions to a problem as intractable as the drug abuse epidemic require coordinated efforts from private businesses, health care providers, policymakers and law enforcement. In the case of illicit meth, pharmacists have a key role to play.
Pharmacies that prioritize selling meth-resistant pseudoephedrine will send a message to meth cooks who are shopping for these ingredients to go elsewhere, that we will not tolerate this in our communities. We must remain vigilant in solving the epidemic of addiction in every way possible. This is one more step in the right direction.
State Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, chairs the House Health and Family Services Committee. She is formerly the NKY director for the Office of Drug Control Policy and currently serves on the NKY Drug Control Policy Board. She can be reached at Laura.Goins@lrc.ky.gov.