Prescriptions for cold medicines on agenda again in Kentucky's fight against meth labs

LONDON — Supporters of a law that would require a prescription for cold medicine containing the drug needed to produce methamphetamine in homemade labs are laying the groundwork for another attempt to pass the measure. The new effort comes as the state is poised to have a record number of meth labs this year.

Police had reported 809 meth lab incidents in Kentucky as of Aug. 31 — 20 percent more than the 607 recorded during the same period in 2010, according to Kentucky State Police.

The state could have more than 1,400 lab incidents this year, compared with last year's total of 1,080, the report said.

In London on Tuesday evening, law enforcement agencies unveiled a program aimed at educating people about the dangers of meth labs, which can expose children to toxic fumes and blow up.

The program highlighted the costs of the state's meth problem, including cleaning up labs that are considered hazardous waste, imprisoning offenders and treating people injured in explosions.

"We're all paying the price," said Jackie Steele, commonwealth's attorney for Laurel and Knox counties. "It really affects every aspect of our community."

From 2007 to 2010, Steele said, one police association said 350 children were taken from homes in Kentucky where there were meth labs.

Steele hosted the first presentation of the program because Laurel County leads the state in labs.

Supporters plan to present the program in forums across the state.

The goal is to build support for a law requiring a prescription for medicine containing pseudoephedrine.

The legislature turned back such proposals in 2010 and 2011 after a group that represents over-the-counter drug makers lobbied heavily against the measures.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association was the top spender among lobbyists during the 2010 legislation session as it fought the measure.

"We underestimated them," Steele said of the industry.

Pseudoehpedrine is a decongestant found in some over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines.

Meth "cookers" mix pills with ingredients such as drain cleaner to create a chemical reaction that converts the pseudoephedrine to meth, often in small labs fashioned from two-liter plastic soft drink bottles.

Supporters argue that requiring a prescription for pills containing the drug would drive down the number of labs and therefore the danger they pose.

The number of meth labs in Oregon and Mississippi — the only states that require a prescription for pseudoephedrine — dropped dramatically after the states instated that rule.

In Oregon, the decline was 96 percent, a prosecutor there said in the video that debuted Tuesday.

The issue of requiring a prescription is likely to cause another fight in the legislature next year.

The CHPA said in a statement issued Tuesday that it still opposes requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine.

Such a law would drive up healthcare costs and create a hardship for law-abiding citizens trying to get a legal drug that helps with their cold and allergy symptoms, the association argues.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association said it supports the current system Kentucky uses to enforce limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine people can buy.

The group also supports a change to block sales to people convicted of meth offenses, according to the statement.

Supporters of a prescription law, however, say the number of meth labs has shot up in Kentucky even with the tracking law in place. Meth cookers evade the limits by having others buy pills for them.

They doubt a new registry to block sales to offenders would work for the same reason, and because people would use fake identification.

Protecting children should win out over the ease of buying medicine for a cold, supporters of prescription law say.

"It's not about people getting their cold medicine," said Karen Kelly, head of Operation UNITE. "It's about kids being exposed and maimed and killed."