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To fight a sharp increase in the number of small methamphetamine labs seized in South Carolina, the Legislature should require that some cold medicines be available only with a doctor’s prescription, according to a York County group that fights youth substance abuse.
York County All On Board presented its current priorities to a group of local legislators, school officials and others Tuesday morning. The group said its top priority is to toughen regulations for over-the-counter medications that include the drug pseudoephedrine.
Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine.
The group’s other priorities are:
• Restricting the age of clerks and others who can sell beer and wine for off-premise consumption. All on Board believes clerks at convenience stores, grocery stores and similar retailers should be at least 18 – and preferably 21 – to legally sell the beverages;
• Increasing taxes on smokeless tobacco products.
Lt. Max Dorsey II of the State Law Enforcement Division told the group that the number of meth labs seized by police in South Carolina is growing. Last year, 267 labs were seized, the 10th highest number nationally. So far this year, 522 have been seized.
“As you can see, in South Carolina, we’re dealing with a meth lab epidemic,” he said.
The labs’ volatility make them especially dangerous, he said. Dorsey showed a video of officers in protective clothing attempting to dispose of a small bottle filled with meth. The bottle suddenly exploded in flames.
Often, similar bottles and other waste created by meth production are discarded in fields or along the side of the road, where they remain hazardous.
Dorsey passed around photos showing York County homes that suffered major damage because of fires or explosions caused by small meth labs.
Previous efforts to control access to pseudoephedrine have helped, but they have not solved the problem, Dorsey said. Although customer purchases of products such as Sudafed are recorded, those who manufacture meth simply go from store to store to purchase enough medications with the drug to produce meth.
Even an electronic database of drug purchasers that is shared among several states, including South Carolina, has not stopped local meth production, Dorsey said.
However, states that have started requiring a doctor’s prescription for drugs with pseudoephedrine have seen significant decreases in local meth labs, he said. In Oregon, where officers used to seize about as many meth labs as South Carolina, police seized only 13 last year, Dorsey said.
In Mississippi, the number of meth labs seized dropped by nearly 70 percent, he said.
Three York County legislators who attended the breakfast said the proposal should be studied.
State Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, said he supports the idea but worries about the impact on York County if North Carolina doesn’t adopt a similar law. The law might reduce the number of meth labs elsewhere in South Carolina. But if North Carolina doesn’t go along, it’d be easy for people to cross the state line to buy the drugs and return to York County to manufacture meth, King said.
State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, said he was surprised by the growing number of meth labs seized by police. Given the success of similar laws in other states, Norman thinks passing one here would be “a relatively easy sell” if questions posed by the American Medical Association and pharmaceutical companies can be addressed.
State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, said it’s too early to say whether he would support the idea. The Legislature would need to balance the proposal’s success in reducing the number of meth labs with the inconvenience created for cold sufferers.
“To require people to go to a doctor and get a prescription for something that’s over-the-counter – that’s a pretty major thing. It could be expensive and time-consuming,” Hayes said.
“So we need to balance the two.”