Bill targets cold remedies to stem meth makers

A bill to require a prescription for over-the-counter cold medicines that contain ingredients used to make methamphetamine comes down to a choice between public safety and profit makers, Carson City's district attorney told a Nevada legislative panel Monday.

SB203 would ban over-the-counter sales of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, ingredients often used to make methamphetamine.

Carson City District Attorney Neil Rombardo told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that the black market value of the controversial medicines represents a $300 million profit for pharmaceutical companies that also translates into Nevada's meth problem, which Rombardo said ranks three times the national average.

Rombardo said the state leads in all the wrong categories when it comes to methamphetamine, with 12 percent of high school seniors reporting they have used meth when the national average is 4 percent. He also said that among the Nevada prison population, methamphetamine is a factor in 40 percent of incarcerated males and 72 percent of incarcerated females.

Supporters came to the hearing primed for counter arguments. Among the roster of anticipated issues: that SB203 would restrict consumer choice; that it would impose high health care costs on the insured and uninsured; and that electronic tracking of individual purchases is a more effective way to restrict access.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, the bill's sponsor, reeled off reasons why such arguments should be discounted. Although SB203 would pull 16 products from the over-the-counter options, she said it also would leave consumers with more than 130 alternatives in their wake and that Nevada Medicaid patients are already bound by prescription-only limits for drugs containing pseudoephedrine and its sister compounds.

As for electronic tracking, that, too, was dismissed as having loopholes so great a pharmacy worker used 36 fake I.D.s to skirt purchasing limits, Leslie said.

However, what was a clear case of conscience and community protection for supporters of SB203 became a muddy game of trading statistics and claims when the opposition got a chance to speak.

Kevin Kraushaar, an independent consultant with the Washington-based trade association Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said relegating the medicines to prescription-only status won't have an impact on methamphetamine, and took exception to testimony of supports such as District Attorney Rob Bovett in Lincoln County, Ore.

Oregon passed a similar law in 2006, and Bovett said the prescription status led to a 96 percent reduction in meth lab incidents.

Kraushaar, a supporter of electronic tracking systems, countered that according to a recent high intensity drug trafficking area study by police, meth was still the state's top drug abuse


Kraushaar also picked at Rombardo's claim that 50 percent to 80 percent of cold medicines containing the targeted ingredients are diverted to the black market to

be converted into methamphetamine. Kraushaar said the amount is closer to

2.2 percent.

He maintained electronic tracking works better because it reaches across state lines.

No action was taken by the committee.


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