As a medical professional, I’ve seen the damage caused by methamphetamine abuse. And as a resident of California, I’m fully aware of its devastating effect on our communities and the families within them. Meth use is on the rise with more than 40 percent of all drugs sold believed to come from local street gangs, mainly within the Latino and African American communities.
At the California Primary Care Association we are committed to representing the interests of California community clinics and health centers and their patients. We believe meth is a real problem that requires a serious solution.
Fortunately, there is such an answer that directly addresses California’s fight against the illegal production of methamphetamine, while still allowing law-abiding citizens access to the medicines they need, such as popular nonprescription cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed). An electronic tracking bill,
Assembly Bill 1280 (Hill), is a real-time, stop-sale solution that does just that. This legislation would block attempts to purchase more than the legal amount of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines. And it would do so at the point of sale, instantly blocking the illegal sale of these medicines.
This would be a significant improvement for California and would serve the interests of law enforcement, the health care community and consumers.
Already in place in more than a dozen states, this real-time, stop-sale system is an effective solution that is highly effective in stopping those attempting to make an illegal purchase at multiple locations. States that have implemented electronic blocking technology have seen real results with thousands of blocked sales and meth worth millions of dollars in street value never making it into the hands of criminals.
Unfortunately, a well-intended but poorly conceived solution amounts to an onerous and unworkable policy that that requires consumers to obtain a prescription to purchase safe and effective medicines containing pseudoephedrine. It would add insult to injury to the 6.5 million Californians without health insurance, nearly 40 percent of which are estimated to be African American, and many of whom are out of work and struggle to purchase many basic needs. There is no doubt that a prescription requirement would limit access to common upper respiratory infection and allergy medications to innocent Californians.
As a board certified Family Physician, I am all too familiar with the lengthy, and often expensive, process that patients must go through in order to obtain a prescription which includes scheduling an appointment resulting in time lost from work and school, and the expenditure of out of pocket costs whether insured or not. In fact it is likely that in some instance those with health insurance may need to pay the full cost of medications which health plans categorize as over the counter and off formulary.
For those whose symptoms manifest after hours one of the few options available will be a trip to overcrowded hospital emergency rooms. It is almost inconceivable that California would move to institute a policy that potentially encourages the overutilization of limited health care resources and further exacerbates state budget problems.
Everyone can agree that the abuse of methamphetamines is a serious problem that must be addressed, but we must insist that we focus our limited time and money on thoughtful and well vetted solutions. Fortunately, there is one practical way to address the crisis, and that is through the passage and implementation of AB 1280. If the electronic stop-sale legislation is signed into law, we will have a tested, practical, and effective system that ensures medications containing pseudoephedrine are used for their intended purpose, and kept out of the hands of criminals. This bill will prevent the overutilization of already burdened services provided in emergency rooms and clinics throughout the state. Real-time, stop-sale electronic technology is the right prescription for the meth crisis in California.
Felix L. Nuñez, MD, MPH is Interim CEO & CMO of Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles.