Debate on cold medicine prescriptions lingers

Lawmakers involved in the debate over how to curb Indiana's methamphetamine problem say a bill that would require drug felons to get a prescription before buying common cold medicine is likely just another step toward an eventual prescription requirement for all consumers of pseudoephedrine products.

Indiana has long been involved in the national meth epidemic, ranking No. 1 in 2013 for having the most meth-related incidents in the U.S. The state appears set to top the 2014 list as well, according to data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Senate members voted 46-3 on Tuesday to advance a proposal that would require courts to report anyone with a felony drug conviction within the past seven years to an electronic system. Anyone on this "meth-offender registry" would need a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine.

Supporters said the measure targets criminals without compromising the rights of law-abiding citizens who legally obtain and use the over-the-counter cold and sinus medications — a key concern among critics.

But many still wonder whether more drastic action is necessary as the measure advances to the House for consideration.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender's Council, said he doesn't believe the "meth-offender registry" will be effective, and if lawmakers really want to reduce meth labs, they need to "require a prescription across the board."

An earlier version of the bill would have done just that by making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug for everyone, not just convicted felons, if the number of meth-related incidents didn't significantly decrease by 2019.

Opponents argue that the universal requirement would create a costly inconvenience for consumers and burden overwhelmed doctors during busy cold and flu seasons.

Last-minute changes on the Senate floor removed the provision Tuesday in a 32-17 vote, but the option is still on the table as the discussion advances to the House.

"The issue isn't if lawmakers should take action, it's when," Landis said. "If you could reduce our meth labs by 50 percent, wouldn't that be enough of a social benefit to justify the inconvenience?"

Some lawmakers seem to agree.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne has consistently opposed attempts for a prescription requirement, but voted against the change Tuesday.

"Everything else we've tried to combat meth hasn't worked," he said. "I feel like we ought to try something new and different."

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