Lawmakers offer alternative to cold medicine sales crackdown

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two Indiana lawmakers unveiled a proposal Monday that they think will curb the use of a common cold medicine in the making of methamphetamine while still allowing sick people to buy the drug without a prescription.

Republican Sens. Randy Head and Jim Merritt said pharmacists should have the authority to approve or disapprove sales for medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which is a decongestant used to treat colds and allergies. A rival measure backed by Indiana prosecutors and GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma would require a prescription for such medicines.

The senators say that could get expensive — and time-consuming — because it would require a visit to the doctor just to treat a cold.

Their bill would instead require pharmacists to "make a professional determination" that there is a "legitimate medical and pharmaceutical need" for the cold medicine before allowing the sale, according to the text of the measure.

A similar law in Arkansas has proven effective, they say.

"We know we have a meth problem in Indiana," said Merritt, R-Indianapolis. "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 he 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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