9 Investigates new push for cold meds prescription to fight meth

by: Allison Latos Updated:

Loading

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The push to control cold medicines is growing. It's because more people than ever are illegally using the medicines to cook meth.

While customers now need identification to buy pseudoephedrine drugs, they could end up needing a prescription.

Every week, Eyewitness News crews capture on camera the persistent and dangerous problem of meth making.

It's being cooked in a home with children, it's being cooked in the back of day care centers, it's being cooked in schools, and it's being cooked in cars.

For years, lawmakers and law enforcement have worked to toughen access to cold medicine with the key meth ingredient -- pseudoephedrine.

State Rep. Craig Horn said it's made virtually no difference.

This year, the state bureau of investigation has investigated more than 500 meth labs and most of them are in our area.

"It's all of our problems. It is costing this state and the nation hundreds of millions of dollars. Money we desperately need for education and for public safety," Horn said.

Finally something that might change things is a new type of pseudoephedrine.

A few drug makers across the country have created versions like Zephyrex-D, which can't easily be cooked into meth.

Dr. Peter Stout at RTI International in Durham explained why these drugs are so much harder to turn into meth.

"They want a nice crystalline product that looks either like powder or crystals. That's going to be the most valuable for them to sell," he said. "When you go to try and extract this or use this in meth manufacturing, it just makes it difficult, it's gooey."

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow only tamper-resistant pseudoephedrine, which would be tested by labs like RTI, to be sold over the counter, while other versions would be prescription-only.

This new effort has its opponents.

"We're comprised of about 2,500 stores," said Andy Ellen with the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.

For the average person, why do you think this could be a bad deal for them?

"Again, you have product selection. Some people do better with certain products and what it does for their health," Ellen said.

Ellen said the idea would also create headaches for businesses.

"It makes it hard on the retail trying to keep up with two sets of inventory and two sets of rules for what you're trying to sell," he said.

Horn argues stopping meth is more important.

"We've got people dying, it's costing us hundreds of millions of dollars, this is the right thing to do," Horn said.

Horn is working on how to word legislation to make some pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

Action could be seen in the short legislative session in May if the new rules get added to bills that already exist about meth.

Horn would have to find funding to test the tamper-resistant pseudoephedrine.

He hopes drug companies will help, and labs may volunteer their services.

See all the 9 Investigates stories from Eyewitness News by clicking here