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Indiana mayors want law for cold-med prescriptions

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Local officials from around Indiana are making a push for the Legislature to require that people obtain a doctor's prescription to buy cold medications often used to make methamphetamine.

Several mayors are expected to testify next week before an Indiana House committee that is considering a bill that would set tighter limits on how much ephedrine and pseudoephedrine could be legally purchased without a prescription.

The House criminal code committee heard testimony on the proposal Wednesday, with the committee chairman delaying a vote until next week because mayors who wanted to testify on the issue were unable to attend because of the winter storm that hit the state.

The bill approved by the state Senate last month would allow a consumer to buy up to 61 grams a year of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. That's about an eight-month total of the current law's monthly limit of 7.2 grams.

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, said he believed people with allergies and occasional illnesses would still be able to buy enough medicine under the tighter limits proposed under his bill.

"Unless you really need this year-round, you're not going to bump up to that cap and shouldn't have a problem," Yoder said. "I think with these limits we've found a pretty good balance where you can still get the necessary medication you need without having to get a prescription."

Representatives of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Indiana State Police Alliance told the House committee that the tighter limits were a step in the right direction, but they still believe doctor prescriptions should be required to make gathering the medications more difficult for meth makers.

Indiana had 1,429 meth labs discovered by police last year — the third most of all the states — and has had that number nearly double since 2008, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The proposal would require all stores selling medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to use a computerized system to track sales. Current state law requires pharmacies to use that tracking system, but convenience stores that sell only small packages are now exempt, Yoder said.

While police departments have access to that system to help track people suspected of making meth, it doesn't go far enough, said Justin Swanson, a lobbyist for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.

"The tracking system is great, but cities and towns don't have the resources to go and respond if someone tries to make a purchase over the legal limit," Swanson said. "We simply don't have those resources."

Swanson said meth makers are causing serious problems with crime and cleanup costs in many cities. He said besides having the mayors testify at next week's committee meeting, more mayors and city officials will be talking with legislators about the problem during a mass lobbying day March 19 at the Statehouse.

Legislators for several years have declined to take the step of requiring doctor prescriptions for the cold medicines. Federal law requires stores to keep pseudoephedrine-based products behind the counter, and two states — Mississippi and Oregon — require a prescription.

Dr. Richard Feldman, an Indiana State Medical Association board member, told the House committee that an estimated 450,000 Indiana residents legitimately use pseudoephedrine each year and that the proposed stricter limits were a more reasonable step than requiring prescriptions.

"Prescriptions will result in increased costs to patients by doctor visits, child care while they're at the doctor, time away from work and the higher cost of prescription drugs," said Feldman, who was state health commissioner under former Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon.

Other provisions in the bill include increasing the criminal penalty for anyone buying more than 10 grams of those medicines intending to give them to someone who is making meth. Tougher penalties also are proposed for anyone convicted of causing a fire or explosion while in possession of more than 10 grams of the cold medicines.

The bill also would prohibit anyone convicted of meth offenses from possessing the cold medicines unless they had a doctor's prescription.

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