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The Politics of Meth in West Virginia

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says he will decide over the next month on a package of initiatives to recommend to the West Virginia legislature to get control of “this prescription pill mess and this substance abuse mess.”

But it was clear over the course of a five minute interview at the Apple Butter Festival in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia on Saturday that Morrisey would likely not recommend that the legislature put pseudoephedrine products on prescription as a way to get control of the burgeoning meth lab problem in the state.

Mississippi and Oregon recently have effectively crippled their meth lab problems by putting pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine —  on prescription.

According to West Virginia State Police statistics, there were 332 meth lab incidents through August 6 — on pace to hit 570 by the end of the year — more than double the 284 incidents from 2012.

While Morrisey repeatedly said during the interview that he was “open minded” to the idea of joining Mississippi and Oregon and putting the drugs on prescription, he kept repeating pharmaceutical industry buzz words — like “regulatory costs” — to signal that he’s going to toe the industry line — and preserve the hundreds of millions of dollars in industry profits from stuffy nose medications like Sudafed (Johnson & Johnson), Advil Cold & Sinus (Pfizer), Allegra D (Sanofi), and Claritin D (Johnson & Johnson).

“At the end of the day, you have to not stop one problem and create another,” Morrisey said.

When asked to identify what problem he would create if the state put pseudoephedrine products on prescription, he refused to do so.

But the pharmaceutical industry has weighed in with it’s own detailed reports that the Attorney General will likely use to justify his decision, including one from Matrix Global Advisors in Washington, D.C. titled An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Requiring Prescriptions for Pseudoephedrine Products.

The report finds that putting pseudoephedrine products on prescription “would force high social and economic costs on consumers” including “extra doctors visits, more absenteeism and lost work productivity, higher prices for pseudoephedrine products, increased health insurance premiums, and a loss of state tax revenues.”

The report finds that eliminating the state’s meth problem by putting pseudoephedrine products on prescription does not seem “worth the cost.”

The industry’s view is countered by most law enforcement and public health officials in West Virginia and around the country.

They argue safer alternatives to pseudoephedrine products are readily available — and that the costs politicians like Morrisey truly care about are the hundreds of millions of dollars of pharmaceutical industry profits that will be lost if West Virginia and the country moves to put pseudoephedrine products on prescription.

While Morrisey said that he wants “to make sure I talk with the right people in the legislature who want to be constructive to solve this problem,” the “right people” apparently don’t include the heads of the House and Senate health committees — Delegate Don Perdue and Senator Ron Stollings.

In 2011, West Virginia sought to pass legislation that would put pseudoephedrine products back on prescription.

But the pharmaceutical industry — represented by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association — attacked the legislation and it was defeated.

The legislation was introduced by Perdue, a retired pharmacist and 16 year member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Perdue is chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Committee.

“It was extraordinary,” Perdue told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview earlier this year. “It passed out of my committee on a voice vote. There maybe was one dissenting vote. It passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a voice vote. Then it passed on the floor of the House of Delegates by a substantial majority — 77 to 23.”

“Then it went to the Senate. It passed the Senate Health Committee and then went straight to the floor. It was the last day of the session. When it came up for a vote, the Senate tied 16 to 16. On a tie vote, the legislation failed.”

Perdue says that pseudoephedrine is a $3 billion a year product — and estimates are that 50 percent to 80 percent of that product is used to make meth.

Putting pseudoephedrine on prescription would cost the industry anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2 billion in lost sales.

Perdue says that’s the reason his bill didn’t pass the legislature — industry profits.

“It’s positively all about profit,” Perdue said. “It has nothing to do with public health. It’s all about protecting their profits. It’s not about individual freedoms. It’s not about whether or not somebody has the ability to access cold medications. It’s not about that.”

Perdue plans to reintroduce the legislation in early 2014.

Before running for Attorney General, Morrisey was a partner at the Washington, D.C. corporate law firm of Sidley & Austin — and he has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

On the same day that Morrisey was at the Apple Butter Festival, the Charleston Gazette ran an article detailing Morrisey’s connection to Cardinal Health, a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical and medical device distribution company.

Morrisey’s predecessor — Darrell McGraw — sued Cardinal Health, alleging that the company helped fuel southern West Virginia’s problem with prescription drug abuse by shipping excessive numbers of pain pills to the region, according to the Gazette.

The Gazette reported that earlier this year, Attorney General Morrisey was in on meetings with Cardinal Health about the lawsuit, even though he had promised to recuse himself from the case.

The paper reported that Cardinal Health paid Morrisey’s wife’s lobbying firm, Capitol Counsel, $400,000 last year, and another $210,00 between January and June 30, according to lobbying disclosure forms.

Since 2001, Cardinal Health has paid $3.7 million to lobbying firms that his wife — Denise Henry — has worked for or owned, the Gazette reported.

Russell Mokhiber edits Morgan County, USA.

Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.

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