Special to the Grove Sun
Eddie Wyant is on fire to get legislative House Bill Number 1235 passed. The bill relates to making pseudoephedrine a Schedule III prescription only drug. Specifically this bill would pertain to the tablet form of the drug and not gels and liquids.
Wyant, who is in his ninth year as the Ottawa County District Attorney is fed up with the consequences of the manufacture of methamphetamine, also known simply as meth, of which pseudoephedrine is the key ingredient. Wyant is so passionate about the proposed bill that he was elected chairman of the sub-committee to lobby for the issue.
“The pharmaceutical companies are arguing that it’s going to inconvenience the consumer,” Wyant said. “I’ve been a DA for nine years and have never been to the capitol to testify about anything, but this is a no-brainer. Yes, we’re going to inconvenience someone, but we need to do something. This is it. To change this you’re going to have to inconvenience some people, that’s unfortunate but necessary.”
The bill is authored by Oklahoma House Representatives Ben Sherrer, John Bennett, David Derby and Doug Cox a local representative from Grove. State and local law enforcement, along with prosecutors are joining together in this effort to eliminate Oklahoma’s escalating meth lab problem.
“Oklahoma took a huge step and was the nation’s leader in putting pseudoephedrine behind the counter. And making it a prescription, will be taking the next step,” Cox said.
Cox said the drug companies that manufacture these medications are opposed to the bill because it will cut into their profits.
“These companies are wining and dining legislators in a continued campaign to keep this bill from passing. Basically we’re fighting a billion dollar industry. Let’s just be honest, there’s a lot of money here,” Cox said
Cox was asked by Ben Sherrer, a representative from Pryor to co-author the bill because he is the only legislator in Oklahoma who is a medical doctor. He said, “The medical profession and doctors are tired of dealing with patients with the side affects of meth, both psychological and physical. It’s devastating.”
Wyant is set to testify at the Capitol should the bill be allowed to be heard before the House. The deadline for the bill to heard is March 17. If it is not before the House before then it will not become law this session.
Cox said, “At this point it’s an uphill battle.” He encouraged those who want to support the bill to e-mail or contact Dan Sullivan, the Floor Leader at or Kris Steele, the Speaker of the House, at firstname.lastname@example.org to encourage them to allow the bill to be heard.
The manufacture of meth dropped significantly between 2004 and 2008 when Oklahoma placed pseudoephedrine behind the counter in pharmacies. The seizure of meth labs went from somewhere near 1,200 to 200 labs seized. A new recipe however, known as the “Shake and Bake” method, uses smaller quantities of pseudoephedrine, allowing meth cooks to get around existing state law.
The method uses plastic soda bottles, also called “reaction vessels”, pseudoephedrine and other ingredients. It does not require heat to process, can be done virtually anywhere and is highly volatile and explosive. As a result, meth lab seizures have climbed from 148 in 2007 to as high as 818 in 2010, an increase of 450 percent.
Wyant said, “There is only one molecule difference in pseudoephedrine and meth. The manufacturing process removes the oxygen from it to create the meth. That’s why you have to have it to make meth. That’s why when you have control of that you are stopping the manufacture of methamphetamine.”
Meth manufacturing comes at a high price to taxpayers and homeowners when a lab is discovered and the clean-up process is set in motion. Information proved by Wyant shows an average cost estimate of $350,000 per lab, once the suspects arrested.
Lower crime rates are something Wyant would welcome here in his district. “The vast majority of criminal activity is related to methamphetamine here, I would say most of my murder charges are connected to the drug. We spend so much time chasing these crimes, prosecuting these crimes. One lab takes 20 hours a week to work at least, that’s half of an officer’s 40 hour week,” Wyant said.
Wyant doesn’t think that people know there is actually a requirement that officers who work these meth labs have to go to a doctor every year for testing to monitor the medical affects working these hazardous cases could cause because they are so poisonous.
The majority of meth labs discovered are dumpsites. These sites are most commonly found on the side of rural roads where they have been left by the cooks. These dumps, which often include remaining acids, caustics, or other components are still emitting hydrogen and still emit chloride and ammonia gas, that are sometimes found by civilians.
“Smurfing” has become a fast growing problem for law enforcement in Ottawa County according to Wyant. Smurfing is the illegal practice of a person obtaining pseudoephedrine for the purpose of reselling it to a meth manufacturer, often through fraudulent means. The current pseudoephedrine restriction law has led to the recruitment of individuals for the attainment of more of the ingredient for the manufacturer.
“I have around 35 cases a month in Ottawa County to work pertaining to “smurfing”. It’s become a whole sub-industry associated with methamphetamine. What is happening is it’s creating a whole new class of criminal. We estimate if we aggressively work these type of cases we would have over 500 a year and it’s only getting worse, “said Wyant.
The introduction of legislation to prohibit the sale of all forms of pseudoephedrine in Oregon has resulted in a 96 percent reduction in meth labs discovered there since the passing of the law in April 2006. The Oregon legislation proved that there will not be a higher cost to consumers and the healthcare system with the prescription mandate. The experience in Oregon also has proven that the tracking system in place now does not stop “smurfing”.
By 2009, Oregon ‘s crime rates were at a 50-year low after the largest decrease in crime rates the nation in 2008.
Another concern opponents of the bill have is that people will have to see their doctor on multiple occasions to get the medicine. Wyant said that an individual will only need to see their doctor once for a prescription that is good for five refills. If the patient has a good relationship with their doctor, a simple phone call is all that will be necessary to get a new prescription. There are also multiple alternatives available on store shelves.
Mississippi, the second state to pass such legislature, saw similar results when the state passed a pseudoephedrine prescription law.
The argument for keeping pseudoephedrine on the counter in order to not inconvenience users of the medication irritates Wyant. He said, “ Pseudoephedrine is not going to cure anything. It’s not going to save anybody’s life. It’s going to help you with a stuffy head. That’s what we’re talking about here.”
There are 21 medications available that contain pseodoephedrine in the gel or liquid form that will not be affected by this bill. There are also 15 other alternative items in the spray or inhaler form The amount of the ingredient in these forms is lower than the tablet form and has never been found in meth lab busts in Ottawa County.
There are 71 products that treat the same symptoms that do not contain pseudoephedrine but will remain available for shelf sale that are not used in the manufacture of meth.
Wyant believes the bill will help to eliminate the manufacture of meth in our state. He said, “It’s going to work. It will work. It has to happen. These meth labs are out of control. At some point these other states are going to catch on and pass laws. If we’re late and everybody else around us is doing it, guess where the meth labs are going to come.”