Legislation requiring a prescription to buy some cold medications has been stalled in a House subcommittee as lawmakers seek a middle ground between law enforcement officers pushing the proposal as a means to combat methamphetamine production and pharmacists opposing it as an unnecessary inconvenience to consumers.
The bill (HB368) would apply to Sudafed, Advil Cold and other products containing pseudoephedrine, which is used in illegal production of methamphetamine. Sponsor Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week the measure is needed because previous legislative efforts — including harsher penalties for meth producers and a record-keeping system for sales of the medications — have not worked to control meth.
“The cost to society is millions and millions of dollars,” he said. “Families are being destroyed. People are dying because of this.”
Oregon and Mississippi have mandated that “meth precursors” be sold by prescription only, Hawk said, and meth production in those states has declined “dramatically.”
But with Hawk’s assent, the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, announced the bill is being “taken off notice” and will be held without action while alternatives are explored. Shipley said he and other legislators met with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials, who support the measure, and “we were not persuaded this is the approach we need to take.”
In an interview, Shipley said one option would be to allow consumers to buy one bottle of a cold medication containing perhaps a seven-to-14-day supply without prescription, though a second bottle would require a prescription. Pharmacists already keep track of sales of the medications through the National Precursor Log Exchange system implemented in Tennessee through legislation enacted two years ago.
Hawk suggested the bill could be altered to allow a pharmacist to issue a prescription for the pills in question after consultation with a doctor’s office over the phone rather than requiring a consumer to get the prescription.
Other legislators generally questioned the need for the legislation.
Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who chairs the full Criminal Justice Committee, said the drugs in question can now be purchased online from the United Kingdom and sent via mail, while Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said more and more meth production is coming from Mexico.
With “thugs” having such options, Watson said, there seems little point in having customers take time off work and make an insurance co-payment when they need a cold medication. He said stronger enforcement of existing penalties would be better.
“We need to quit working deals out with criminals. That’s the problem,” said Watson. “When the law says three to nine years, it should mean three to nine years. … If we’ve got to put up fences and keep them (prisoners) outside, there’s nothing illegal about putting up a fence in Tennessee.”