GALESBURG — Those looking for relief from the common cold or seasonal allergies could soon need a prescription for those types of medications under proposed legislation to help curb the state’s methamphetamine problem.
The proposal was brought to the state senate floor last week and would require a prescription from a physician to obtain any medications containing ephedrine and psudoephedrine, which are required to produce meth.
Both ingredients would be classified as schedule III controlled substances under the Illinois Controlled Substances Act with the hopes of making it more difficult for people to produce the drug and easier for law enforcement to crack down on its production.
“In this area, meth is the number one drug problem,” said Knox County Sheriff David Clague.
“You don’t need to invest a large amount of money to manufacture it,” Clague added. “And typically those doing so have a small network of people assisting them.”
Knox County Assistant State’s Attorney Dave Hansen also says the production of meth is widespread through the region, in part because of the availability of the needed materials, which can include such items as 2 liter bottles, wire tubing, glass jars and a heat source.
“Anyone can walk into their local store and buy this stuff,” Hansen said. “It’s been a big problem especially within small communities.”
According to figures from the Galesburg Police Department, the area saw 26 meth-related violations in 2013. While that number was up from eight during the previous year, it represents a drop from 48 offenses in 2011.
State law enforcement agencies are also grappling with meth production. The Illinois State Police reports 753 meth-related seizures last year, with 786 in 2012 and 573 in 2011.
But for Clague and others in law enforcement, part of the appeal for the proposed legislation lies in the threat to public safety in the production of the drug. Clague says those who produce meth are putting themselves and others in an extremely dangerous situation.
“The odors and chemicals are extremely volatile,” explained Clague, who also says meth production is not confined to homes, but is often done in motels and even the backseats of moving vehicles.
“Something as insignificant as turning on a light switch could cause an explosion,” Clague added. “That creates one heck of a health hazard for innocent people, law enforcement and fire department personnel.”
The state last enacted legislation to crackdown on meth production in 2005 and 2006 with the passing of several laws aimed at imposing strict requirements on how and where pharmacies could display products containing meth-making substances, as well as creating a statewide registry to help keep tabs on convicted meth offenders to deter repeat violations.
Those measures appeared to have an impact. According to the Illinois State Police, meth violations dropped to 446 in 2007 after the laws were in place from 786 instances the year prior.
While many legislators believe the proposed bill will have a similar impact, others like State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, say it will create a financial burden on those for which the law is not intended.
“Obviously, the intent is good,” Moffitt told The Register-Mail. “We do have a serious problem in the state. But to make these medicines a prescription item? We’re talking about a lot of added cost and time to the consumer.”
Moffitt also said he’s heard from a number of constituents who think the legislation is a bad idea. Some of those constituents, like Galesburg resident Pamela Godsil, feel such a law would do less to punish the criminals and more to harm those who need the medications and don’t have the time or money to consult a doctor.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” said Godsil, who is not unfamiliar with meth and its effects on users.
Godsil says she’s had relatives who have gotten mixed up with the drug, and has seen first-hand how vicious and unrelenting its hold can be.
“It’s an awful thing,” she said. “That drug has such a powerful hold on people. And something has to be done, but I don’t believe this is going to fix it.”
Additionally, the law could stoke strong responses from retail advocacy groups worried about possible impacts on the businesses that sell the medications.
But some pharmacies have already acted on their own accord in requiring prescriptions to purchase medicine containing the hotly contested substances.
George Burgland, owner of Burgland Drugs on Henderson Street, has been requiring customers to provide a prescription for medications containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine since the initial round of meth-related laws went into place.
For him, the decision was a no-brainer, both from a business and customer-service standpoint.
“I thought, I own my own store and I can make my own policy,” explained Burgland, who says he’s seen little in the way of blowback from customers.
“I think the potential for abuse outweighs any inconvenience,” he added.
It’s safe to say the decision about whether to relegate cold, flu or allergy medicines to the same category as other controlled substances is divisive, and a conversation that will persist as it moves through a formal review in Springfield.
And while some, like Moffit and Godsill, maintain the potential cost and inconvenience a law of this kind could have on consumers, Clague says the cost of not evolving to keep up with those producing the drug could be much greater.
“Could this impact the honest person? Yes,” Clague said. “But what’s going on right now (with meth) also impacts the honest person.”