Rep. Smaltz: It's time to address the scourge of meth labs in Indiana

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Indiana is on track to lead the nation in meth lab seizures for the third consecutive year. In 2014, Indiana State Police (ISP) reported 1,488 meth lab incidents, accounting for 16 percent of the national total. Over the past decade, there was a 234 percent increase in the amount of arrests in Indiana associated with meth labs. These are only a few of the many alarming statistics that shed light on what has become a serious problem in our state. Indiana is the meth lab capital of the country, and it is time that we take action to combat the production of this dangerous drug.

In 2014, 382 Hoosier children were found and removed from a residence where meth labs were present. Due to chemical exposure, a child living at a meth lab may inhale toxic substances, or absorb meth through their skin following contact with contaminated clothing or food. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration reports that 35 percent of children removed from meth labs tested positive for meth. These children are also at an increased risk for severe neglect, or physical and emotional abuse by their family members.

Along with health risks, the seizure of meth labs place a financial burden on taxpayers. According to ISP, since 2007 over 4,900 properties have been listed as contaminated by meth labs – 599 of those in northeast Indiana. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management estimates that meth labs cost property owners about $32 million annually in damages. In addition, meth labs cost ISP $22.5 million in processing. Furthermore, the Indiana University Center for Health Policy estimated that the total cost of combating meth in Indiana in 2005 was about $1.9 billion. These are taxpayer dollars that are being used to clean up meth labs when they should be devoted to areas like transportation, public safety and education.

Pseudoephedrine (PSE) is a key component needed to make meth. It is also an ingredient used in a small number of cold, flu and allergy medications. The state has worked to control access to PSE by putting those type of medications behind the counter, limiting the total amount an individual can purchase and forcing consumers to sign a logbook each time they purchased PSE. Currently, an electronic monitoring system known as NPLEx is used in every pharmacy in Indiana to track PSE purchases. Unfortunately, meth labs incidents continue to climb and criminals are still finding ways to circumvent the law. Policymakers have done almost everything they can to stop meth labs, besides making PSE a prescription drug.

Many have argued that making PSE a prescription drug would be an inconvenience for consumers, or that it might increase healthcare costs and lines at the doctor’s office. On the contrary, a federal study of the healthcare costs in Oregon and Mississippi – both states with PSE prescription requirements – showed that there was not a significant increase in cost to the states’ Medicaid programs. The same study reported that physicians did not see a rise in appointments. There are also over 100 alternatives to this type of medication, and I believe that the inconvenience of obtaining a prescription does not outweigh the seriousness of the meth lab issue.

Most important, enacting a PSE prescription requirement has proven to be effective in other states. Within the first 35 weeks of enacting Oregon’s law, meth lab incidents declined 96 percent and meth-related emergency room visits decreased by 35 percent. In Mississippi, meth lab incidents dropped from 692 in 2009 to only eight in 2013.

This session, I am authoring legislation that would make PSE a Schedule III drug that could only be dispensed by prescription. The legislation would also require the distribution of PSE to be monitored by INSPECT, Indiana’s current drug monitoring program. Finally, products that contain PSE, but are certified to be tamper-resistant by ISP, would be exempt from the law.

Many communities, particularly ours in northeast Indiana, have felt the scourge of meth among our families, friends and youth. As we look ahead to the 2016 legislative session, I believe making PSE a prescription drug is an important step we must take to curb meth production in Indiana.

-30-

State Rep. Ben Smaltz serves as the Chairman of the Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee. He also serves on the Public Policy Committee, Roads and Transportation Committee and the Committee on Joint Rules.  Rep. Smaltz represents all of DeKalb County and portions of Steuben and Allen counties.