It’s going to become more difficult, and probably more expensive, to buy over-the-counter cold pills like Sudafed if state lawmakers adopt a recommendation from the Kentucky Medical Association.
This week, KMA members voted to support legislation that would require a doctor’s prescription for cold and allergy medications containing the decongestant pseudoephedrine, which is also a key ingredient in the illegal drug methamphetamine.
Both law enforcement officers and lawmakers are split on the proposal to combat meth production.
“If they make it a prescription drug, it won’t be as easy for us to track,” Christian County Sheriff Livy Leavell said.
Supporters of the KMA proposal argue it would limit and delay access to the pills.
Opponents say other measures already in place limit access to pseudoephedrine because state and federal laws require retailers to keep the pills behind the counter. Customers have to show identification and provide a signature when they buy the medication. Police can see an online log of the purchases.
Another disadvantage of requiring a prescription is the expense. Many Kentuckians who don’t have health insurance won’t be won’t be able to afford the doctor’s visit. And in some cases, those with insurance won’t want a co-payment for a seemingly routine illness.
Many people simply don’t have $50 for a doctor’s visit, said Helen Kinton, executive director of Sanctuary, the domestic violence shelter in Hopkinsville.
“Our clients can’t afford health care,” Kinton said. Many of the women at the shelter use the most expensive form of health care — the emergency room — because they don’t have insurance, she added.
The Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association supports the prescription requirement for cold medications. Two pharmacy groups, the National Community Pharmacists Association and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, oppose it.
The Kentucky General Assembly considered a prescription bill for pseudoephedrine medications last year. Mary Jane King, D-Russellville, who represents Todd and Logan counties, supported the measure.
Two state lawmakers from Christian County, Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, and Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, said this week they favor the current method of keeping the medications behind pharmacy counters.
Dossett said he would not favor a prescription requirement because he opposes more regulation affecting consumers. Pendleton said he agrees with Leavell’s opinion that it’s easier to track meth-makers if customers have to show an ID and sign to buy the pills.
The medical association’s resolution comes as police are contending with a new method of making meth.
The so-called “shake-and-bake method” can produce methamphetamine in a single two-liter soda bottle, said Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain.
In the last couple of years, the one-step method has replaced more complicated methods of cooking volatile ingredients over an open flame, and that has caused an increase in the number of meth labs discovered by police.
Meth is simply easier to make, said Cain, and that could mean more people are making meth. But it does not mean the current monitoring system isn’t working, he argues.
“There are many in my profession who do not agree with me on this,” he added.
Cain, a key supporter of the 2005 state law that put pseudoephedrine pills behind pharmacy counters, said the KMA did not contact him before adopting the resolution. An Owensboro physician he knows personally did call to ask his opinion, he said.
The medical association, which says Kentucky State Police support a prescription requirement, noted that Oregon has seen a reduction in meth lab incidents since adopting the legislation.
“There is empirical data out of Oregon that suggests this method of drug control works, and we need a proven method in Kentucky because the problem in my area of the state is out of control,” Dr. William C. Thornbury Jr., of Glasgow, said in a news release from KMA.
Leavell said a detective at the sheriff’s department tracks pseudoephedrine purchases at local pharmacies. The reporting system allows police to know if one person is going from store to store to buy pills.
“If they buy it from several different pharmacies, then all of the sudden, you are tracking it,” he said.
Cain said he applauds the KMA’s interest in the state’s meth problem but said he believes their efforts are “misguided.”
“I fear we will regress,” if the state drops the current monitoring system, he said.
The number of Kentuckians addicted to drugs like lortab and oxycontin shows that a prescription requirement won’t stop the improper use of a drug, he said.
Jennifer P. Brown can be reached at 270-887-3236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.