Indiana pharmacists could get the legal right to refuse to sell a common cold medicine used to make methamphetamine to suspicious customers under a bill a Senate committee approved Tuesday.
The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law committee passed the measure 8-2 vote after hours of testimony. The measure would allow pharmacists to diagnose a customer's condition and determine if medicine containing pseudoephedrine is necessary, or if alternative medicine would work. Currently, customers need a driver's license in order to buy the medicine.
The bill's author, Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, said the measure won't completely eliminate the meth problem. However, his hope is that it will free up law enforcement officers and resources to focus on stopping the influx of meth from another source: Mexican drug cartels.
For Harry Webb, an owner of two pharmacies in Rochester and Akron who supports the bill, empowering pharmacists seems is a common sense way to deal with the problem.
"The pharmacist is the gatekeeper for many drugs that are potentially abused," Webb said.
But the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a lobbying group that represents over-the-counter- drug manufacturers, raised the possibility that pharmacists would be found liable for making the wrong decision.
"What if you make an assessment of someone and they end up going to cook?" Carlos Gutierrez, the CHPA's government affairs director said. "Are you then liable for a crime?"
The bill wasn't the only measure related to meth that was taken up by the committee. They also advanced another bill that would ban drug offenders from buying medicine that contains pseudoephedrine without a prescription.
But while several industry groups seemed pleased with the measures that moved forward, Indiana's law enforcement agencies said lawmakers were failing to take up a proposal they believe would be more effective by requiring a doctor's prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine. Similar measures have been proposed in recent years, but have failed to advance.
"We think it's the only way the state can eliminate meth labs," said Frank Short, of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police. "Even if these two proposals become law, the Association of Chiefs of Police feels we'll be revisiting this in the next two years."
A House committee is also scheduled to hear the prescription proposal, among others, Wednesday despite the chairwoman saying last week that it would not get a hearing.
Opponents of requiring prescriptions say doing so would be inconvenient for law-abiding allergy and cold sufferers and increase health care costs.
Indiana already limits the amount of medication containing pseudoephedrine that can be purchased daily, monthly or yearly by one individual. It monitors those purchases through an electronic tracking system.
Indiana legislators are set to consider a proposal that would give pharmacists the authority to turn away suspicious customers trying to buy a common cold medicine that's used to make methamphetamine.
The state Senate criminal law committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday morning on the bill that aims to frustrate meth cookers from acquiring medicines containing pseudoephedrine.
Indiana has for several years been among the states with the most meth lab seizures by police, but Senate and House committee leaders told The Associated Press late last week that they won't consider bills calling for the more stringent step of requiring a doctor's prescription in order to buy pseudoephedrine medicines.
This story will be updated.