Lawmakers offer alternative to cold medicine sales crackdown

December 14, 2015

Two Indiana lawmakers have unveiled a proposal that they say will curb illegal sales of a common cold medicine used to make methamphetamine but would not penalize sick people by requiring prescriptions for the drug.

Sens. Randy Head (R-Logansport) and Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) said Monday that pharmacists should have the authority to approve or disapprove sales for medicines containing the ingredient pseudoephedrine.

A rival measure backed by Indiana prosecutors would require prescriptions for such medicines. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, recently changed his stance on issue and said he would support an over-the-counter ban.

Merritt said the bill strikes the right balance because it doesn't require law-abiding allergy sufferers to make a costly doctor's visit. The measure will be considered when the Legislature meets in January.

The proposal would keep pseudoephedrine products behind the counter and require pharmacists to conduct a brief consultation with patients who would like to purchase it. Consumers who want to purchase medicines such as Sudafed, a popular decongestant containing pseudoephedrine, would only need the approval from the on-site pharmacist.

Decongestants like Nexafed or Zyphrex D, which work like pseudoephedrine but are both meth-resistant, would remain available for purchase off the shelf.

“This approach is a common-sense solution,” Head said in a written statement. “Honest Hoosiers would still be able to purchase the medicine they need, and pharmacists would have an active role in identifying and deterring individuals who may be attempting to buy pseudoephedrine for the purpose of making meth. For example, pharmacists could ask questions about the patient’s symptoms and recommend an alternative to a pseudoephedrine product if they suspect the customer has intentions of using the medicine to make meth.”

A similar law in Arkansas has proven effective, the lawmakers said.

"We know we have a meth problem in Indiana," said Merritt. "But that doesn't mean that we should punish everyone who needs to purchase cold medicine for themselves or their family by requiring a prescription. Parents don't want to, and often cannot, go to the doctor and get a prescription for something like Sudafed every time their child is sick."

Indiana restricts how much pseudoephedrine-containing medicine one person can buy and tracks sales through a database. But Head, R-Logansport, says the state still remains a meth-making juggernaut when compared with other states.

"Meth labs are one area that we don't want to lead in," said Head. "Something absolutely has to be done about it."

One of the problems with the state's current approach is that meth makers can circumvent quantity restrictions by enlisting friends or by paying people to purchase medicine that contains pseudoephedrine.

Pharmacists are "the natural bottleneck for stopping the sale of pseudoephedrine" to meth cooks, Head said. "We can attack the meth lab problem without making you go to your doctor."

Those who advocate for requiring a doctor's prescription to buy pseudoephedrine have raised doubts about the effectiveness of proposals like the one the senators proposed — a concern Head acknowledged.

"I wish we had a perfect solution, but we want to stop Sudafed from getting to ... meth cooks while allowing legitimate users to have the most freedom possible, and that's the balance that were trying to strike here," he said.

A pharmaceutical industry trade group is opposed to both proposals that seek to curtail drug sales. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association says lawmakers should instead try to block known "meth offenders" from buying the drug.

"Rather than further burdening law-abiding cold and allergy suffering Hoosiers with a law that will have no impact on the meth scourge, policymakers should instead focus laws on the very criminals responsible for meth production," the group said in a statement.


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