Over-the-counter drug makers start campaign to educate potential meth ‘smurfers’ about consequences of their actions

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The lobby for makers of over-the-counter drugs, which has fought laws to tighten controls on sale of cold medicine that is used to make methamphetamine, is starting a public-education campaign to discourage evasion of the system that tracks purchases of pseudoephedrine. The targeted states are Kentucky and Alabama, which could be key to preventing passage of laws like the one in Mississippi, which requires a prescription for pseudoephedrine. UPDATE, 4/19/13: Missouri has been added.

The Consumer Products Healthcare Association rolled out the campaign in Alabama last month. It joined with the Kentucky Pharmacists Association and the Kentucky Retail Federation yesterday to announce the program in Kentucky, and won the blessing of its primary adversary in the state’s legislative battle, Senate Republican Leader Robert Stivers of Manchester. Also on hand at Wheeler’s Pharmacy in Lexington was Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who had stayed out of the fight until he signed the bill.

Stivers, who is in line to become Senate president, was asked if the drug makers’ move signaled a truce in the battle. He indicated that he would wait to see the impact of this year’s law, which reduced the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought during one a month, before trying to tighten it. “Let’s look at the history and see what happens,” he said. Earlier, he said: “I appreciate the fact that they’re coming here in a very conciliatory way, a very open way, to say we all know there is a problem.”

Beshear noted that fewer meth labs have been found in Kentucky this year, but said the success of the law depends on educating the public: “As laws are passed, criminals adapt and find new ways of getting around them.”

Preventing that is the goal of CHPA’s “Anti-Smurfing Campaign,” named for the practice of meth makers using others, “smurfs,” to buy pseudoephedrine for them. Beshear noted that the new law makes smurfing a felony, and said the posters are “designed to make smurfers think twice” and “think of the moral and criminal consequences of their actions.” He told cn|2 Politics, “I think will be a good deterrent in this situation.”

CHPA’s director of state government affairs, Carlos Gutiérrez, said the posters were tested in 2011 with focus groups of Kentuckians and strike a balance of educating potential smurfers without alarming law-abiding buyers of pseudoephedrine.

In its efforts to kill Stivers’ prescription bill during the 2012 legislative session, CHPA spent more than any other lobbying group has ever reported spending on a legislative session, and that did not include hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent on radio commercials urging listeners to lobby legislators about the bill. Lobbies in Kentucky do not have to report what they spend on such indirect lobbying. Guiterrez was asked if CHPA would do that, and he said he would look into it.

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