GREENFIELD — Pharmacists may refuse to sell cold medicine to unfamiliar customers under a new law aimed at making it harder for addicts to purchase ingredients used to make methamphetamine.
The law, which took effect July 1, makes pseudoephedrine, a common decongestant used to make meth, a controlled substance and allows pharmacists to demand a prescription from those whom they don’t recognize as regular customers in their drugstores.
Those who have “a relationship on record” at a pharmacy will be allowed to purchase cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine without any trouble, the law states. Others, however, could be turned away from the pharmacy under the pharmacist’s discretion or have their purchase limited to fewer boxes.
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The spirit of the legislation is to further deter Hoosiers from making meth — a substance local police worry is becoming more popular among Hancock County drug users. Some detectives say they’re concerned the law will lead to “doctor-shopping,” a practice in which addicts seek out medical professionals who are somewhat lax in the prescriptions they hand out.
Year after year, legislators give more responsibility to pharmacists to help fight the war on drugs, said David Bush, owner of Medicap Pharmacy in Greenfield.
The new law is the latest in a string of attempts to curb meth use; it forces pharmacists to determine what is an excessive amount of an over-the-counter drug, a power men and women in white coats didn’t necessarily sign up for and a provision Bush said he worries will inconvenience law-abiding customers.
Lawmakers already have put cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter at pharmacies, have limited the amount of pseudoephedrine people can purchase in a period of time and required customers’ names to be logged in a state database tracking sale of the drug, officials said.
Bush said drug abusers have forced the legislature’s hand.
Indiana consistently leads the country in meth manufacturing, according to data released by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which tracks where meth labs are found and destroyed by police across the country.
Of the 12,000 meth labs discovered in the United States in 2013, Indiana tallied nearly 1,800; and of the 9,300 found around the country in 2014, more than 1,400 were in Indiana, DEA data shows.
National numbers have not been announced for 2015, but Indiana State Police officials have released statewide statistics that show Hancock County has seen a slight increase in the number of meth labs found locally in recent years.
Five meth labs were discovered and destroyed by police in Hancock County in 2015, the most found locally since state police started tracking meth labs busts in 2000. Three meth labs were found in 2014 and two in 2013.
Hancock County police said they have noticed that same uptick in meth-related crimes in recent months, and they are hopeful the new legislation will deter those hoping to use or make the drug.
Detectives have been investigating tips about meth dealers more regularly, Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Rasche said. Their efforts resulted in four people being charged with dealing the drug in 2015, up from two in 2014, court records show. No one faced the charge in 2013.
Some drug users have told investigators they are moving away from heroin use and picking up methamphetamine, Rasche said. Heroin has too high an overdose risk, and users claim meth is the safer option despite a higher price tag, Rasche said.
So far this year, 16 people have been booked into the Hancock County Jail on a meth-related charges; most were accused of possession of the drug, booking records show.
It’s still too early in the year to tell if methamphetamine is the new drug of choice with local users, Rasche said, but he added he’s interested to see what sort of effect the new law will have on meth manufacturing locally.
Meth labs are dangerous, Rasche said; even the remnants of one are hazardous and carry risks of explosions. Monitoring over-the-counter drugs found in meth should make it more difficult for users to get their hands on key ingredients, he said.
Two schools of thought dictated legislators’ debates as the new pseudoephedrine law made its way through the Statehouse, said State Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield.
Some state leaders, including the Indiana Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, want pseudoephedrine to be made available by prescription only; opponents of such a measure believe that’s too much of burden to put on families looking to treat the common cold.
The final draft of the legislation seemed like a reasonable compromise, said Crider, who voted in favor of the bill.
Pharmacists are, in a way, the first line of defense when it comes combating issues with over-the-counter drugs, he said.
“They have the individual right in front of them, and they generally know what a normal request for the product would be,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll take that responsibility to heart.”
Rasche said he worries this additional provision will lead addicts to seek out doctors or pharmacists who are willing to shrug ethics and prescribe or sell to those who shouldn’t have access to medications. Law enforcement agencies across the country believe such behavior has fueled opioid-based drug abuse, including the increased use of heroin and prescription painkillers, Rasche said. He’s worried police in Indiana might see the same trend with meth.
Working at a small store such as Medicap gives pharmacists a better opportunity to get to know their customers than what national chains experience, Bush said. If a Medicap customer asks for one box of Sudafed, Bush’s employees likely will honor the sale without batting an eye. But if someone requests multiple boxes with the excuse that they’re heading out on vacation, for example, pharmacists have to start asking questions that might make some people uncomfortable, he said.
Most pharmacists chose their career path as a way to help people, Bush said, but those who abuse drugs are making that task more and more difficult.
“Our first responsibility is to care for the patient,” Bush said. “Not everyone is doing something incorrect.”
In 2013, police officers dismantled and seized the drugs from 12,050 methamphetamine labs across the United States; 1,796 of those labs were in Indiana.
In 2014, there were 9,338 labs found, 1,471 of which were in the Hoosier state.
Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration