Kentucky and Oklahoma Reject "Anti-Meth" Bills Banning Over-the-Counter Cold Medicine
State level bills that would have required a prescription for popular over-the-counter (OTC) cold relief medications in a bid to make home methamphetamine cooking more difficult have run into roadblocks in several states this year. This week, prescription-only bills were killed in Oklahoma and withdrawn in Kentucky, and unhappy police and prosecutors are blaming the OTC industry.
The bills in Oklahoma were House Bill 2375 and a companion measure in the Senate, while the bill in Kentucky is Senate Bill 50. They are aimed at "shake and bake" meth labs, which use small amounts of pseudoephedrine and other easily obtained products to produce small amounts of meth, typically a two-liter soft drink bottle.
"Shake and bake" meth cooks are being blamed for an increase in the number of meth labs reported in the last few years. According to an Associated Press report this week, the number of labs reported was up 8.3% in 2011 over 2010.
The OTC industry group the Consumer Healthcare Products Association has indeed lobbied mightily and spent heavily to defeat the bills, which would require prescriptions for such popular OTC medications as Sudafed, Claritin-D, Advil Cold & Sinus, which include pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the popular meth-manufacturing recipe. It isn't apologizing for its actions.
"We believe that requiring a prescription for these medicines containing pseudoephedrine will not solve this problem, but will only place new costs and access restrictions on law abiding Oklahomans who rely on these medicines for relief," association spokeswoman Elizabeth Funderburk told the Associated Press, "We have a shared goal in making sure these medicines do not end up in the hands of criminals, but we believe law abiding citizens should not be forced to bear the burden of a prescription mandate."
"The scare tactics used by the pharmaceutical companies have clearly worked," said Greg Mashburn, one of several district attorneys who urged Oklahoma lawmakers to approve the bill. "Shame on the pharmaceutical companies for knowing they're profiting off meth and pouring tons of money into this effort so they can continue to profit off of it."
But it wasn't just the cold medication trade association opposing the Oklahoma bills. State and local medical, pharmacist, and grocer groups also opposed the bills.
"You're making people come to the doctor for an office visit and pay a co-pay just to get a cold medicine," said Dr. Michael Cooper, a family practitioner in Claremore. "I already have patients who won't come to the office when they're sick because they can't afford the co-pay. We're going to clog the system and make things worse," he told the AP.
Now, it looks like in both Kentucky and Oklahoma, legislators will instead turn to bills requiring a real-time electronic tracking system for pseudoephedrine sales. In Oklahoma, such compromise legislation is underway, while in Kentucky, Sen. Tom Jensen (R), sponsor of SB 50, said he is working on compromise legislation, too.
"We’ve probably reached some consensus on where we want to go," Jensen told the Lexington Courier-JournalThursday, but declined to discuss specifics of the compromise.
Similar bills are being considered in Alabama, Indiana, and West Virginia. Two states, first Oregon and then Mississippi, have already enacted pseudoephredrine prescriptions laws.
Oregon in particular has touted the success of its prescription law, but a study released this week by the Cascade Policy Institute scoffs at that claim. The report's findings are evidenced by its title, Making Cold Medicine RX Only Did Not Reduce Meth Use.