Paging Doctor Meth
Imagine you wake early one morning with severe sinus congestion and a throbbing headache. You wobble down to the local Walgreens for some medicinal relief, only to be denied your Sudafed by the pharmacist for lack of a doctor’s prescription. What do you do? Lug your bloated, throbbing head to the next county where prescriptions are not required? Or schedule a doctor’s appointment for next week? That is hardly timely relief. What will St. Charles County residents do?
The St. Charles County Council voted on July 25 to require a doctor’s prescription when purchasing cold and allergy medications that contain pseudophedrine. Unfortunately, the ordinance imprudently inserts doctors into meth makers’ raw material supply chains. It is difficult to imagine, much less believe, that this ordinance will effectively diminish meth production in Missouri. With a sufficient profit motive, meth makers will seek out alternative arrangements for the procurement of pseudophedrine, perhaps by recruiting doctors as critical prescription suppliers.
In essence, the ordinance will turn otherwise law-abiding doctors into accessories to crime, unwittingly or not. Some will no doubt embrace the temptation to write fraudulent prescriptions, thereby corrupting the practice of medicine.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. With the resulting increase in the demand for prescriptions, the ordinance further taxes an already over-burdened medical reimbursement insurance system. In an era when concerns for healthcare costs predominate, why should St. Charles County compound the problem by dumping a multitude of cold and allergy sufferers onto the bloated calendars of busy doctors?
And what about consumers? Certainly, the monetary and inconvenience costs of traveling to — and paying for — doctor’s visits and the time exhausted circumventing the ordinance by purchasing medications in non-regulated jurisdictions are substantial. The St. Charles County Council has voted, in effect, to shift meth-related law enforcement costs onto the backs of innocent cold and allergy sufferers.
This cost shift acts much like a tax on the purchase and consumption of cold and allergy medications. As with a tax, the “effective” price for these medications rises for consumers. Similar to a tax, the result is a deadweight loss as consumers ultimately consume less than the optimal amount of medications.
Seriously, is the real purpose of the “prescription mandate” to engineer a local law enforcement database to better monitor the activities of private citizens? If so, shouldn’t someone conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis comparing the expected benefits with the known costs? After all, pharmacists are already required to request and to enter personal information into a database tracking consumers of pseudophedrine-based medications.
And what can be done to alleviate the competitive disadvantages and inherent inequities dogging those pharmacies who happen to be located wholly within a prescription mandate jurisdiction? They will certainly lose business to competitors fortunate enough to be situated in non-mandate counties and municipalities. Although a statewide mandate would address this latter concern, it nevertheless would still give rise to the corruption of medicine and tax-imposed deadweight losses, as discussed above.
The war against meth is not a free task. The costs associated must ultimately be borne by taxpayers. The issue is whether the selected means for conducting that war are wise and efficient, implying that all costs and benefits have been carefully weighed and compared.