Politics & Government

Pseudoephedrine bill's future is uncertain

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."
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." AP

FRANKFORT — A few hours after a Senate committee approved a bill Thursday to limit the purchases of cold medicines with pseudo ephedrine in an attempt to curb production of methamphetamine, the measure's sponsor declared its future uncertain.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said "a very successful lobbying campaign" against Senate Bill 3 was causing difficulties in finding votes for the measure in the Senate. Stivers would not declare the bill dead for this legislative session, but he said he would decide soon whether to continue pursuing it.

He said that he did not want to subject lawmakers to continued pressure by the makers of pseudo ephedrine, and that the legislature has other major issues, such as the state budget, to tackle. Thursday was the 38th day of the 60-day session.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 7-4. Later, Senate leaders posted it on the chamber's orders of the day for a vote, but Stivers decided not to call the vote after party caucuses met on the issue.

The measure would lower significantly the amount of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine that Kentuckians could buy without prescriptions. Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient used to make methamphetamine, which Stivers has described as a scourge on Kentucky, especially in Eastern Kentucky.

Under the bill, 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 prescriptions. Gel caps and liquids would be excluded from the limit because making meth from those forms of the medicine is more difficult.

Also, people with drug-related convictions could not buy cold medications for five years. The committee amended the bill to allow a doctor to prescribe up to 7.5 grams of pseudoephedrine a month.

The bill is an alternative to SB 50, a measure Stivers withdrew last week. It would have required a prescription for most cold medicines. Stivers said he could not support proposed amendments that would raise the amount of pseudoephedrine that could be purchased without a prescription.

The industry contends that SB 3 is a burdensome restriction to legitimate consumers.

"Severe restrictions on cold and allergy medicines containing pseudo ephedrine will prevent chronic allergy sufferers and many Kentucky families from accessing affordable, quality health care they rely upon," said Scott Melville, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

"For thousands of Kentuckians — especially those who suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms — there's absolutely no difference between a prescription mandate and Senate Bill 3, especially given the fact that the Commonwealth of Kentucky has one of the longest allergy seasons in the country," he said. "The significant gram limit called for in SB 3 would lead to involuntary time off work, lost wages and increased health expenses for many responsible Kentucky families and workers."

Stivers said his bill would not affect 85 percent of Kentucky's population.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on SB 2, designed to regulate pain management facilities and the distribution of prescription drugs. It requires doctors to use the statewide electronic reporting system for prescriptions and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure to begin investigating reports of inappropriate prescribing within seven days.

A co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said the committee might hold a special meeting Tuesday to vote on the bill.

The House is considering a similar measure; it would put the attorney general's office in charge of investigating doctors who inappropriately prescribe pain pills.

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