Futile prescription

Hoping to thwart those who use legal drugs to manufacture methamphetamine, state Sen. Sheila Leslie wants to require a doctor's prescription for common cold remedies containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine.

Medicines with those ingredients already are off open shelves, by law sold only in limited quantities from behind the counter at pharmacies. Buyers must sign a registry.

The prescription requirement, argues Sen. Leslie, D-Reno, would reduce instances of "smurfing" -- the practice of buying as much product as allowed at one pharmacy before moving on to another and using an assumed name to buy more.

But under this bill, how much productive labor would be lost as workers stay home with colds, instead of treating their symptoms with common, over-the-counter remedies? How crowded will doctor's offices become if all those workers try to get an appointment to get a prescription for a dozen Sudafed capsules -- 10 days after they needed it? How much will waits for appointments be increased for those with more serious medical problems as cold sufferers clog the waiting rooms? How many, unable or unwilling to pay for a such office visits, will now opt to seek such drugs at our overcrowded -- and tax-subsidized -- emergency rooms?

Against all this cost and inconvenience, what are the chances the proposed law will actually reduce consumption of methamphetamine? In fact, meth lab busts in Nevada have already fallen from 125 in 2003 to 10 in 2009.

Meantime, concerning a computer system now used in several states to track sales of the cold medicines in question, The Associated Press reports that "The practice has failed to curb the meth trade, which is growing again after a brief decline, and that the practice created a vast, lucrative market for profiteers to buy over-the-counter pills and sell them to meth producers at a huge markup."

How much higher will a new prescription law drive "black market" prices? How many new crimes will be committed to lay hands on the stuff?

And, again, how much will it help?