Revised anti-meth bill would limit purchases of some cold medicines

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 28, 2012 

Meth Crackdown

Seated next to state Sen. Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican who is the sponsor of a bill to require prescriptions for cold medications that contain ingredients used to make methamphetamines, recovering addict Melanda Adams described her experiences, including "a loss of innocence."

JOHN FLAVELL — AP

FRANKFORT — Kentuckians could buy far less of most cold medicines containing pseudo ephedrine without a prescription under a revised anti-methamphetamine bill introduced Tuesday in the state Senate.

Under Senate Bill 3, someone could buy up to 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine a month, or 15 grams a year. (A generic box of pseudoephedrine with 48 pills, each with a 30-milligram dosage, contains 1.44 grams of the medicine.)

Amounts that exceed the 3.6- or 15-gram limits would require a prescription for drugs with pseudo ephedrine, a key ingredient in meth. Gel caps would be excluded from the limit because it is much more difficult to make meth with that form of the medicine.

Also, people with drug-related convictions could not buy cold medications for five years.

The sponsor of SB 3, Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the legislation was an alternative to SB 50, a measure he withdrew last week. It would have required a prescription for most cold medicines.

Stivers said electronic monitoring already is in place to keep track of cold medicine purchases.

The revised bill met immediate opposition from the makers of remedies that contain pseudoephedrine.

Elizabeth Funderburk, senior director of communications for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said in an email that her group "continues to oppose burdensome restrictions to over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines that thousands of law-abiding Kentuckians rely upon for relief."

"For many families who suffer from colds and allergies, the restrictions proposed would significantly impact those who need the medication most," Funderburk said.

The industry also strongly opposes requiring prescriptions for the products, which reportedly generate billions of dollars in sales annually in the United States. It has argued there are less intrusive ways to attack the problem.

For most of this year's law-making session, the industry has waged a statewide radio and Internet ad campaign against the legislation, urging the public to tell legislators to vote against SB 50.

Stivers said he did not intentionally renumber his revised anti-meth bill to frustrate the industry's advertising effort.

The association reported spending $194,957 in January on its lobbying effort, which included a phone bank and Web site. That was far more than any other group spent to lobby lawmakers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee might consider the new bill Thursday, and the entire Senate might vote on it this week, Stivers said.

He said the measure was modeled on legislation being considered in West Virginia.

Stivers said his revised bill "will do one of two things. It will either shut down the quantity and amount of product needed or you will see a surge in individual purchases, which would be easily tracked."

Tommy Loving, executive director of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers' Association, said the proposal for a lower limit on the amount of pseudo ephedrine people may buy was a step in the right direction.

The measure won't be as effective at cutting the number of dangerous meth labs in Kentucky as requiring a prescription would have been, but the political reality is that Stivers' new proposal has a better chance to win passage, Loving said.

He said the bill probably would drive down the number of meth labs in the state initially because it would take meth cooks time to respond to the lower limit on pseudoephedrine sales, he said.

The concern, however, is that the cooks will regroup and recruit more people to buy their limit of pills and then turn them over to be made into meth, authorities said.

The same scenario played out after a 2005 change in state law to restrict access to pseudoephedrine by putting it behind the pharmacy counter.

The number of meth-lab incidents in Kentucky dropped significantly from 2006 to 2007 but has risen every year since, according to state police.

Loving said another concern is that people would use false identification to buy pseudoephedrine.

Jackie Steele, commonwealth's attorney for Laurel and Knox counties, agreed that the lower limits on pseudoephedrine sales probably would lead to a drop in the number of meth labs, but only in the short term.

The new limits could drive up the black-market price of a box of cold medicine, tempting more people to get involved in buying it to sell to meth producers, Steele said.

"I hope this cures it," he said of the meth-lab problem. "I don't think it will."

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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