Op-Ed

Ties to lobbyists muddy sheriff's meth message

Phil Osborne is owner of a Lexington public relations and marketing firm.
Phil Osborne is owner of a Lexington public relations and marketing firm.

I haven't been in the news business since I walked away from the assignment desk at WLEX-TV almost 27 years ago. But I follow the news, and I follow policy and politics.

That's why I was a little disappointed in the Oct. 31 commentary about the methamphetamine problem in Kentucky — not so much with the content as with the missing context about the author.

No one will argue that meth abuse isn't a significant problem in Kentucky and other states. Sen. Tom Jensen and others proposed Senate Bill 45 in the last session of the General Assembly that would have provided a possible solution, but it died a slow and miserable death. It would have required products containing pseudoephedrine to be labeled "prescription only."

The cold and flu medicines containing pseudoephedrine are required to cook meth, plain and simple. But despite an overwhelming outpouring of support from lawmakers of stature, such as state Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Greg Stumbo and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, SB 45 got a vote of support in committee but was never brought to the Senate floor despite the fact that only a handful of medicines would have been affected.

Why? As a character in the movie Jerry MaGuire proclaimed: "Show me the money." And that's where I have a problem with Sheriff Keith Cain's commentary against restricting the sale of the medicines.

As Daviess County sheriff, Cain is not only in law enforcement, he's also a politician. That's where the money trail starts:

■ The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance shows a $1,000 contribution to Cain from Michael Davis, president of Appriss, the software company that supports the meth-check program in Kentucky and several other states.

■ Cain also got a $500 contribution from the Appriss Federal Political Action Committee. But he's not alone. Since 2006, 31 Appriss employees have made political contributions to various candidates totaling more than $29,000. In addition, its PAC has made nearly $7,200 in campaign contributions. Some $1,250 of that went to Todd P'Pool, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general against incumbent Jack Conway. P'Pool's supporters graphically referred to the prescription-only solution as the "snot tax."

■ Appriss spent more than $51,000 on lobbyists in the last session of the General Assembly. It had plenty of company. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association spent more than $67,000 on lobbyists as part of its massive "Stay out of our medicine cabinet" campaign. Other pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer — one of the manufacturers of medicines containing pseudoephedrine — spent just south of $100,000 for a 30-day legislative session. All of that information can be found through the Legislative Ethics Commission.

■ So far this year, Cain has testified alongside Jim Acquisto of Appriss in support of the software product in Oklahoma and Michigan. In the Michigan meeting minutes, Cain is also referred to as a consultant for CHPA.

I don't have a dog in this fight. I happened by chance to be in Frankfort when hundreds filled the rotunda in support of SB 45. I was in the annex on a few occasions when the legions of lobbyists were weaving their political magic. And I can't fault Cain for making his assertions. That's how political debate is supposed to work. However, the message is only as credible as the messenger.

We need to find a solution now. All too often, we're reading headlines about toddlers and pregnant women being exposed to toxic meth fumes. We're hearing more about the high cost of cleaning up these waste sites.

And I never want to pick up another newspaper and read about a 20-month-old child who died from swallowing the drain cleaner used in the meth-cooking process.

A solution requires compromise. Let's get that done. There's too much at stake.

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