The Indiana House will consider stricter limits on purchases of cold and allergy pills that can be used to make methamphetamine after a committee endorsed them Wednesday, while rejecting even tougher measures sought by several mayors.
Officials from Evansville, Muncie, Terre Haute and other cities told the House criminal code committee about problems tied to meth production, including explosions and chemical spills caused by meth cookers. They argued for requiring people to have a doctor's prescription to buy pseudoephedrine-based products, which are often used to make meth.
Opponents said it would be unfair to force law-abiding people to pay for more doctor visits and likely higher drug costs.
Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler told the committee that the city's police department spent more than 2,000 man-hours dealing with about 60 meth labs last year, with more costs to clean up dangerous chemicals and fire damage.
"It's a money issue," Tyler said. "The time's going to come, as this continues to rise, that we're not going to have the funds that we need to be able to do our job and protect our citizens."
Indiana has long been at the center of the national meth epidemic and had the third-most meth lab seizures of any state last year, with 1,429, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, told the committee about a meth lab explosion that happened about a mile from her home in a rural area of southwestern Indiana. She said meth makers "have disregard for everybody in our communities. ... Our communities are asking for help."
The committee turned down a proposal from McNamara to allow individual cities and counties to decide whether to require doctor prescriptions for the pseudoephedrine-based medications.
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he worried that allowing such local laws would simply "shove the problem around" with meth makers heading to communities that didn't ban over-the-counter sales to obtain the medications.
The bill unanimously approved by the House committee would allow a consumer to buy up to 61 grams a year of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. That's about an eight-month total, when compared to the current law's monthly limit of 7.2 grams.
The proposal also would require all stores selling medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to use a computerized system to track sales. A state law adopted two years ago requires pharmacies to use that tracking system, but convenience stores that sell only small packages are exempt.
The bill, approved last month by the state Senate, now goes to the full House for consideration.
Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, the bill's sponsor, said he didn't believe people with allergies and occasional illnesses should face the additional costs and hassles of getting prescriptions. He said he believed a bill that included a prescription requirement would be rejected by legislators.
Federal law requires stores to keep pseudoephedrine-based products behind the counter, and two states — Mississippi and Oregon — require a prescription.
Evansville Assistant Police Chief Chris Pugh told the committee that while a prescription requirement wouldn't stop the sale of meth imported from outside the country, it could put a dent in the some 100 meth labs a year discovered in the city. He said dealing with those labs means police officers aren't handling other problems.
"We're working hazmat, we're working explosions," Pugh said. "We're having to deal with the cleanup and all that cost."