Meth bills mandating cold-pill prescriptions face tough road

Bills aiming to reduce Indiana’s methamphetamine problem by requiring prescriptions for some cold medicines probably won’t be considered in House or Senate committees this session, key lawmakers said.

House Public Health Chairman Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said he doesn’t want to make it harder for Hoosiers to get the over-the-counter medicines they need, even if they contain pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in meth.

And Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Chairman Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said he plans to have a hearing on a meth-related bill he has authored instead of legislation requiring prescriptions for cold medicines.

Young’s legislation – Senate Bill 536 – is meant to prevent the sale of pseudoephedrine-based products to anyone who’s been convicted of meth-related crimes. It would require the courts to report all such convictions so the names can be put into the state’s National Precursor Log Exchange, a database used to track pseudoephedrine purchases and prevent people from buying more than allowed by law.

Young said that will be more effective than targeting everyone who wants to buy the medicines.

“It’s better to prevent individuals with methamphetamine-related convictions from purchasing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine,” Young said.

But some say Indiana should move to a prescription-based system, and several bills filed this year would make that happen.

Senate Bill 290, authored by Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, will make anything containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine a schedule III controlled substance, which requires a prescription.

Senate Bill 445, authored by Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, would do the same, except pseudoephedrine would be made a schedule IV controlled substance instead.

House Bill 1390, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R- Mount Vernon, proposes to reduce the amount of drugs containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine that a customer can buy. Currently in Indiana, 7.2 grams of medication containing pseudoephedrine can be purchased during a one-month period, and 61.2 grams can be bought in a year.

Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the co-author of HB 1390, wants to drop the annual limit to 9.6 grams per year. Beyond that, a customer could obtain more only with a prescription or other order from a doctor.

The larger goal of each meth-related bill is the same – to reduce the amount of meth being manufactured in Indiana.

In 2013, Indiana had 1,808 meth lab busts, more than any other state, but that number shrank to 1,488 in 2014, according to Indiana State Police.

Tennessee and Missouri also have experienced reductions in the number of meth lab busts. For over a decade, Missouri led the nation in meth lab busts, but fell below Indiana and Tennessee in 2013.

Some say the reduction in labs happened in part because the nation has been flooded with meth from Mexico, reducing the need for criminals to cook their own. The Mexican meth has been reported to be almost 100-percent in purity and cheaper than meth made in the United States.

It also uses the organic compound phenylacetone, a substance that has been banned in the U.S. but not in Mexico. This compound takes the place of the pseudoephedrine used in the U.S. to make the drug.

First Sgt. Niki Crawford, who commands the Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Unit, said the agency has not taken a stand on any of the bills. But Crawford said she believes that having more control over pseudoephedrine would help the state get a handle on the meth labs.

“All precursor methods to creating meth are controlled by the DEA except pseudoephedrine,” Crawford said.

Glick said she is not locked in on her proposal. “If my bill is too strong that’s fine,” Glick said. “Just as long as we pass one of them.”

Clere said he remains sensitive to the concerns of constituents about the bills that require prescriptions.

“The legislation is well intended but I’m not certain that it would solve the problem,” Clere said. “I am certain it would create hardships and make things difficult for people trying to buy a proven and inexpensive medication. Unfortunately, criminals are always going to look for other ways.”

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