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Opening Statement of Senator Charles E. Grassley
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Hearing on
“The Status of Meth: Oregon’s Experience
Making Pseudoephedrine Prescription only”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Madam Chairman, thank you for holding today’s hearing on methamphetamine and our continued efforts to remove this terrible drug from the streets.  Meth is a devastating drug that destroys lives, families, and communities.  Midwestern states such as Iowa have been hit especially hard by meth.  The impacts of this drug have been devastating to rural areas across the country. 

As opposed to other illegal drugs, meth is often home cooked and made in rural areas using ingredients that are largely available over the counter.  Congress has taken action to attack this problem. Legislation such as the Combat Meth Act, which, Madam Chairman, you and I cosponsored with Senator Talent, is a big reason domestic meth labs are down across the country.  The results of Combat Meth were felt almost immediately and labs across the country began to fall.  However, the decline in domestic meth labs has begun to level off and in some areas, labs have increased. The common thread between these meth labs is the way cooks obtain the main ingredient PSE, through a process known as “smurfing.”  Smurfing occurs when a person visits a number of different locations buying the legal maximum amount of PSE product at each site.  The result is an amount of PSE sufficient to produce home cooked meth. 

Last Congress, I joined Senator Durbin in authoring the Methamphetamine Production Prevention Act which made it a federal crime to smurf PSE products across state lines.  It also modified the Combat Meth Act to allow retailers to maintain the logbook information in electronic format.  These two changes were necessary to combat smurfing, but more work remains.

Today’s hearing is designed to look at the problem of increasing domestic meth production and what can be done to stop new labs from popping up.  One proposal comes from the state of Oregon where the legislature passed a law requiring individuals to obtain a prescription from a doctor in order to obtain products containing PSE.  This is a proposal that advocates say will help reduce domestic meth production.  However, others argue that this approach reduces patient access to PSE, raises health care costs, and may hinder law enforcement in locating and preventing meth labs. 

While Oregon and Mississippi are the only states to pass a law requiring a doctor’s prescription for PSE, many other states have taken different approaches to combat smurfing.  My home state of Iowa has been a leader in taking pro-active steps to cut the illicit supply of PSE.  For example, in Iowa, PSE products can only be purchased from a pharmacy and not through convenience stores, effectively limiting supply to professional pharmacists.  Iowa has also followed the example set by a number of other states and passed legislation requiring real time electronic tracking of PSE sales.   A federal grant program to create a pilot version of electronic tracking was included in the original legislation Senator Durbin and I introduced two years ago.  While the federal grant program did not ultimately make it into our final bill, I still believe that for electronic tracking to work seamlessly, we need to examine the idea of expanding it nationwide.  While it may be too early to tell full results, many states that have implemented real time tracking have experienced successes. 

The witnesses here today will discuss Oregon’s experience with making PSE a prescription only drug as well as other states’ experiences with electronic tracking.  I have concerns about the approach Oregon has taken.  We need to strongly consider the economic impact this proposal will have if it is implemented at the federal level.  For example, to obtain a prescription individuals would be required to visit a doctor.  That visit will increase costs to the consumer, including the cost of the visit, insurance copays paid by the consumer, and increases in insurance premiums to cover the costs of the doctor’s visit.  Further, there is no real experience in changing a product from over-the-counter to prescription so it’s also unclear if consumers will experience increase costs for the product.  Taken together, these new costs could significantly impact millions of Americans that use PSE products annually. 

Also, I’m concerned with the proposal to schedule PSE based upon concerns raised by law enforcement.  For example, an October 30, 2009 article in the Portland Tribune discussed the meth problem in Oregon following the new law.  The article quoted a Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputy as saying “There’s a lot more meth than there ever was before.”  The same article quoted a Portland Police Bureau officer who said, “There’s so much, it’s ridiculous.”  The article continues stating, “Oregon’s legislative changes contributed to a radical transformation in the underground meth economy, one that in some ways is making the problem even more difficult to fight.”

Another Oregon paper wrote an editorial citing police sources saying that following the passage of the law in Oregon meth labs are down, but meth use has remained consistent.  That same editorial also discussed how many residents in Oregon who purchase PSE products simply obtain it by traveling to Washington State to make the purchase.  In fact, anecdotal evidence has suggested that sales of PSE products in neighboring states has increased six times since the prescription only law was passed.  Taken together, these two articles raise a number of questions about what the true cost of a federal law requiring prescriptions to obtain PSE would really be, both in terms of economics and law enforcement. 

I look forward to the testimony from today’s witnesses and the opportunity to question them about Oregon’s experience and other viable options such as pharmacy only sales and electronic tracking.