DA wants to make some cold medicines prescription-only
Carson City has joined at least one other Nevada county this week in supporting legislation that would make certain drugs used in cough syrups, cold tablets and allergy medicines available by prescription only.
District Attorney Neil Rombardo told the Carson City Board of Supervisors this week that three substances used in common cold medicines and available without a prescription are also essential to making methamphetamine.
Rombardo said the substances addressed by the proposed legislation are ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, contained in many brands such as Sudafed and Actifed.
Customers can buy these common cold remedies now without a prescription, but they must sign for them and purchases are limited.
The current system doesn’t work, Rombardo said, because pharmacies aren’t connected to a central tracking base and criminals will go from place to place to make their purchases – a term known as “smurfing.” Groups or “cells” will work together to acquire as much of the medicines as possible to sell to meth manufacturers.
A smurfing cell of 30-40 people can purchase enough medicine each day to produce four pounds of meth, Rombardo said.
Rory Planeta, a former Tri-Net narcotics officer with the Department of Public Safety, said that based on his experience and that of his wife, who works at a pharmacy, the issue is serious.
And Sheriff Ken Furlong said that meth labs in this area are difficult to find because they don’t produce large quantities, but that the war on meth needs to continue.
“Every time we’ve taken a significant stand, we’ve seen results, and meth labs in this state are down,” Furlong said.
In 2005, the United States spent $23 billion on drug treatment, health care, criminal justice, child endangerment, environmental cleanup and other costs related to meth, Rombardo said.
Nevada’s methamphetamine treatment rate is nearly three times the national average. One out of 10 high school students in Nevada reports long-term use, and Nevada’s law enforcement agencies report meth as the No. 1 law enforcement issue.
“Step Up, End Meth in Nevada” is a campaign launched by Rombardo, who said he believes passage of the proposed law will have a huge impact on crime throughout the state.
“This might be the single-most important thing we can accomplish this session if it passes,” he said.
Rombardo said without the law, the meth problem in Nevada is only going to get worse as Mexico steps up its drug enforcement efforts. It has already banned the substances in question, increasing the demand for it on the domestic black market.
And while it might be more difficult for legitimate consumers to obtain the products they believe work best for them, Rombardo said it is worth it.
He said that since passage of the prescription-only law in Oregon in 2006, the state has reported the following statistics:
• Drug arrests dropped 31 percent between November 2006 and November 2008.
• In 2008, Oregon experienced the largest decrease in crime rates in the nation.
• In 2009, Oregon crime rates were at a 50-year low.
“We are making it more difficult, but every doctor I’ve talked to has said the side effects of PSE products are bad and that alternatives are more healthy,” he said.
But Liz MacMenamin, representing the Retail Association of Nevada, said similar legislation was brought forward during Nevada’s 2007 session, and the association opposed it.
“We opposed it and our constituents opposed it,” she said. “Our members have not taken a position on this one, but they’ll be meeting the first week in February.”
Rombardo replied that the retail association has an obvious conflict.
“They’re the profit-makers,” he said.
And resident Bruce Kittess backed Furlong and Rombardo.
“We elect these people, and when two of them tell you there’s a problem, you don’t want to tie their hands,” he said.
Supervisor Shelly Aldean agreed.
“I have faith in American industry,” she said. “They will step up to the plate to invent an effective drug that’s not a precursor to meth, and I’m sure this will be thoroughly vetted in the Legislature.”
Rombardo has been working with Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson as well as Lyon County Sheriff Allen Veil for their support of the bill draft.
Lyon County commissioners joined Carson City supervisors in passing similar resolutions Thursday supporting the effort to change Nevada law. Eureka County is also looking at joining the effort.
Rombardo has enlisted the support of Nevada Assemblyman Tom Grady and State Senator Sheila Leslie to help move the bill draft along.
“We’re excited about the progress made in Carson City and Lyon County yesterday,” Leslie said Friday. “Next week we’ll be in Las Vegas to keep looking for support.”