Lawmakers Differ On Meth Law Issue - The Missourian: Local News

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Lawmakers Differ On Meth Law Issue

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Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2013 11:00 am | Updated: 1:15 pm, Thu Aug 8, 2013.

It appears there is a lack of support in the state Legislature to implement a prescription requirement for medicine containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine.

State Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, say a prescription requirement is the best way to control the state’s meth problem. But others in the Legislature have been unwilling to go that far.

As a compromise, Schatz and Hinson propose reducing the amount of pseudoephedrine people can buy.

State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, says the Legislature should move slowly when it comes to restricting access to the medicine, which is used to relieve nasal congestion.

However, Curtman said he is much more open to lowering the gram limit than he is to implementing a prescription requirement.

The Legislature should at least lower the grams if it is not willing to implement a prescription requirement, Schatz said. He has previously sponsored legislation to require prescriptions, saying it has worked in Mississippi and Oregon.

The key, Curtman said, is striking a balance between reducing methamphetamine while still allowing people who use pseudoephedrine legally to get the medicine they need.

Prescription Requirement

For several years, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has voiced support for a statewide pseudoephedrine prescription requirement. At last week’s Missouri Sheriffs Association Conference, Koster again called for adopting a prescription law.

Currently, almost 70 counties and cities in Missouri, including Franklin County, Washington and Union, have a prescription requirement.

The Legislature has debated a statewide prescription requirement, and Curtman said he voted against the measure.

Schatz said he thinks a prescription requirement would pass in the House but not in the Senate.

State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, could not be reached for comment.

A prescription requirement would only put up more “red tape” for people who are trying to get the medicine they need, Curtman asserted. If there were a prescription requirement, people would have to consult a doctor and get permission to buy the medicine, Curtman noted.

Gram Limit

Currently, Schatz said people can buy 9 grams a month or 108 grams per year under the state’s tracking system.

He would like to lower it to 3.5 grams a month, up to 21 grams a year. While this would still be enough pseudoephedrine to make meth, it would drastically impact how much, Schatz said.

Curtman said, “That seems like a pretty heavy cut.”

Reducing the gram limit could create some hassles for people who need the medicine, but it would not be nearly as bad as a prescription requirement, Curtman said. He said he would have to hear from people who use the medicine regularly to see how they feel about the gram limit being reduced.

Law enforcement officials have indicated that a gram limit reduction could help in the fight against meth, Curtman added.

Schatz said his proposed gram limit would have no effect on average pseudoephedrine users who take the medicine legally. He agreed that there could be some extreme cases when a single mom has to buy medicine for several children that the gram limit could be an issue.

Pharmaceutical companies don’t want the rules to change, Schatz said, adding that he has worked with drug lobbyists on the issue. Schatz said he thinks pharmaceutical companies are worried that restrictions could hurt profits.

“It is a very large industry, and they don’t want any additional regulations,” Schatz said.

Carlos Gutiérrez of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association issued a statement, saying, “The pharmaceutical industry strongly supports the rights of law-abiding Missourians to purchase pseudoephedrine containing cold and allergy medications. We do not feel it appropriate to penalize the majority of legitimate cold and allergy sufferers for the crimes of a small few.”

Gutiérrez added that his organization takes “very seriously any attempt to use our medications for the production of meth, and that is why we support and fully fund the National Precursor Log Exchange – the real-time electronic blocking system currently in use by Missouri pharmacies, retailers, and law enforcement. This system has blocked thousands of boxes of (pseudoephedrine-containing) medications, which could have been otherwise sold illegally.”

Need Senate Support

The state Senate acts as if it does not want to discuss the pseudoephedrine problem, Hinson said.

The Senate probably won’t support a statewide prescription requirement, so the compromise would be a gram limit reduction, Hinson said.

It appears the Senate is concerned that restricting pseudoephedrine would take away people’s personal liberties, Hinson noted. He does not see it that way, adding that people who use the drug legally will still be able to get the medicine they need.

The proposed 3.5 grams a month, up to 21 grams a year, should be an ample amount of pseudoephedrine for people, Hinson said. The medicine is only supposed to be used for short amounts of time, he noted. Therefore, Hinson does not think it is a valid argument to say that people may need more of the medicine.

Methamphetamine affects entire families since many times children are in the home where the drug is cooked, Hinson said.

In order for the gram-limit compromise to pass in the Legislature next year, there will have to be a Senate sponsor of the bill or some other support in the Senate, Hinson said.

Currently, Curtman said he thinks more people use the drug for the right reasons as opposed to making methamphetamine.

Schatz estimated that 30 to 60 percent of the pseudoephedrine bought in Missouri is converted to meth, but he said the pharmaceutical companies may disagree with that figure.

Indeed, Gutiérrez said, “Any assertion that (pseudoephedrine) is being diverted into the production of methamphetamine at the rates described by Rep. Schatz are based on general estimates and anecdotes and not on sound statistical analysis supported by data.”

Missouri needs to do something about its meth problem, Schatz said, adding that being No. 1 in the country for meth labs is not honorable.

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