Cold-medicine makers urge a block list for meth criminals in Kentucky

Panel advised to target meth makers, not cold sufferers

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comOctober 8, 2011 

FRANKFORT — The manufacturers of drugs that contain pseudoephedrine are urging Kentucky legislators to ban people who have been convicted of meth-related crimes from buying the drugs instead of requiring all Kentucky residents to get a prescription for them.

Carlos Gutierrez, director of state government relations for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, told the Interim Joint Committee on the Judiciary on Friday that limiting the sale of pseudoephedrine to those who have been convicted of meth-related crimes has worked in other states.

Anyone convicted of a methamphetamine-related crime would go into a registry and would be blocked from buying cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, he said.

The proposal was immediately rejected by Dan Smoot, law-enforcement director of Operation UNITE, a drug task force in southeastern Kentucky, who said a registry or block list just won't work.

"Most meth cooks don't buy the cold medicine," he said. "This isn't going to do anything. It's useless."

Meth "cookers" typically pay people called "smurfers" to buy the cold medicine. "Smurfers" are addicts or other people looking to make money who rarely have criminal histories, Smoot said. "Cookers" can give "smurfers" $50 to buy a $12 package of cold medicine, he said.

Cookers then mix pills with other ingredients, including drain cleaner, to create a chemical reaction that converts the pseudoephedrine to meth.

Gutierrez said the manufacturing organization also would be willing to decrease the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can buy from the current limit of 108 grams a year to 60 grams.

The group said it could help with consumer protection education campaigns about the dangers of meth, which it says has worked in other states.

Twenty states considered requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine last year, but no state passed it. Cold and allergy sufferers don't want to visit a doctor to get a prescription for something they can get now in a variety of stores, Gutierrez said.

The debate over whether cold medicines with pseudoephedrine should require a prescription was one of the biggest fights of the 2011 legislative session.

Although the majority of the state's law enforcement agencies and House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams supported the bill, the drug companies lobbied heavily against it, and it never passed.

Police cite dramatic declines in the number of meth labs in Oregon and Mississippi, which both passed a prescription law.

Meanwhile, the number of labs in Kentucky continues to climb, as do the number of children and police officers hurt by meth labs, police officials told the committee Friday.

Kentucky is on track to have an all-time high number of meth-lab cases this year, according to state police. There had been 809 cases recorded by the end of August — 20 percent more than in the same period in 2010, state police said.

Smoot said meth labs are monopolizing the time and attention of Operation UNITE, which is tasked with the investigation and policing of all drugs — prescription pills, cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs.

"We're doing nothing but cleaning up meth labs," Smoot told the committee. "I need pseudoephedrine to be scheduled."

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