As meds-for-meth bill languishes, some seek compromise, but bill’s sponsor says proposals would render it ineffective

By Al Cross and Tara Kaprowy
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

As the bill to require prescriptions for three widely used decongestants remains short of votes to pass the Senate, there is talk of a compromise measure to thwart the use of the medicines for making methamphetamine. But the bill’s sponsor says he is not open to the compromises he’s heard.

“We want to go with something that works,” said Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London. “What has worked is what they’ve done in Oregon and Mississippi. What they have done is make a controlled substance out of pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine,” and greatly reduced the number of meth labs.

Lobbyists for drug manufacturers are circulating alternative proposals, such as applying the prescription rule only to the estimated 5,500 people convicted of a drug-related crime. Another industry proposal would cut the annual non-prescription purchase limit by more than half, from 108 grams per year to 50.

Jensen dismissed those proposals, saying they would do nothing to curtail “smurfing,” meth makers’ use of people who are paid to buy ingredients. “Some of them are homeless, some of them are college kids, some of them come from poor backgrounds,” Jensen said of the buyers. “They’ve got fake IDs, they’ve got GPS systems showing all the pharmacies in the area, and they’ll hit them very quickly.” He added, “Even trying to limit (per-month consumption) has created a whole other problem. We have a whole lot of people who are getting involved in criminal activity who probably don’t even know it.”
The current monitoring system keeps the decongestants behind the counter and requires buyers to register. Under federal law, individuals may not buy more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period.
Last week on the Jack Pattie Show on Lexington’s WVLK-AM, Louisville drug officer Stanley Salyards said he would accept a bill that would require prescriptions only for pills containing the three decongestants, since making meth from gelcaps and liquid preparations is very difficult. Two other police officers on the program indicated agreement.

Jensen rejected that idea today, saying his Senate Bill 45 would apply to only 15 products, and “All the other cold and flu medicines are still out there.”

A Senate committee approved the bill on a 6-4 bipartsan vote last week, but the full Senate has passed over it for more than a week, and Jensen acknowledged in today’s interview that it lacks the votes to pass.

He said manufacturers of the 15 cold remedies “have spent a tremendous amount of money opposing it and getting a lot of misinformation out there … We, unfortunately, don’t have the funds to get out and make full-page ads and radio statements and TV commercials that say ‘That’s just not true.'” For example, the ads say the registration and tracking system is effective, but the law-enforcement officers on the radio show last week said it is not.

Opponents of the bill say having to get prescriptions would increase costs for cold and allergy sufferers, and meth makers would simply cross state lines to get their supplies. The opponents are backed not only by heavy spending, but by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has suggested “banning all online retail sales, distribution and shipment of products containing ephedrine and/or pseudoephedrine from non-Kentucky licensed pharmacies to individuals in Kentucky.”

Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, filed a bill last week to make the pill forms of the three substances “legend” drugs, those that are “available through the determination of a pharmacist or by prescription,” reports The Kentucky Standard of Bardstown. “It would not be classified as a controlled substance.” The bill would also prohibit purchases of any of the three medicines by anyone under 18 without a prescription.

“While many of us are sympathetic to those who have been adversely affected by the meth trade in Kentucky, I don’t believe making pseudoephedrine only available via a doctor’s prescription will curtail the meth problem in our commonwealth,” Floyd said in a press release. “By placing more responsibility on pharmacists who already have a monitoring system for pseudoephedrine sales, we can gain better control on those who are purchasing the product to make meth while not punishing those who need pseudoephedrine for legitimate health purposes.”

Floyd’s House Bill 376, which he said he wrote after consulting with Bardstown pharmacists, would allow pharmacists to dispense the drugs to “a person evidencing physical symptoms treatable by those products,” according to the bill summary, and “would require pharmacists to ask a series of questions to those trying to purchase a pseudoephedrine product,” the Standard reports. It would also require thrm to put the information into the state’s electronic tracking system for prescriptions.

“Local pharmacist Leon Claywell already uses a screening system to determine why a customer is buying medicine containing pseudoephedrine, Floyd said. If he thinks it is not for a legitimate purpose, he refuses to sell it,” the Standard reports.

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