Prescriptions sought for certain cold medicines

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Supporters of a proposal to require a prescription to purchase common cold medications such as Sudafed and Claritin-D that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine, say they're not giving up despite the defeat of such a bill in a state Senate subcommittee.

The bill by Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, failed on a 3-3 vote Wednesday, but a virtually identical bill by Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, is pending in a House committee.

"I'll look to what's available on the House side," David told The Associated Press after the Senate subcommittee effectively killed the bill for this session.

"I won't give up. I'll just look for a different vehicle," David said.

Neither David nor Tibbs returned phone calls seeking further comment.

Opponents of the measure include associations representing doctors, pharmacists and grocers.

"It's a very divisive issue, certainly our physicians up in the northeastern part of the state where this is a problem are concerned about this," said Wes Glinsmann, director of state legislative affairs for the Oklahoma State Medical Association. "We want to be a part of the solution," Glinsmann said. "There's other legislation that's out there that would give us a much tougher law."

He said the proposal includes a computer system that would share information about the sales of the cold medicines in Oklahoma and adjoining states to ensure that no one is buying more than allowed by state law.

Current sales are entered into a state-based computer system, but the information is not shared across state lines.

Edmond pharmacist Lee Gile, despite the pharmacy association's opposition, said she believes that from a business standpoint, requiring a prescription would be simpler.

"The paperwork we have to do, it would be easier if it was just prescription," Gile said, noting that the opposition is due to a lack of access some patients might have to the medicines.

"Someone could be financially strapped and maybe couldn't afford to go to the doctor," for a prescription, she said.

Supporters of the plan include district attorneys and law enforcement.

The Oklahoma's District Attorneys Council plans a news conference Monday in support of the legislation, with spokesman Trent Baggett saying that similar laws adopted in recent years in the states of Oregon and Mississippi have helped reduce meth manufacturing in those states.

Oklahoma passed a first in the nation law in 2004 that banned store sales of the popular medications and allowed them to be sold in pharmacies, where they must be kept behind the counter and sold only to people who present photo identification and sign for the medicine.

That law was credited with helping reduce the number of meth labs found in the state from 1,236 labs in 2003 to 148 in 2006, but Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward said the number was back up to 902 by 2011.

Woodward said the increase is due to the so-called "shake-and-bake" method in which a small amount of ingredients, including pseudoephedrine, are mixed in plastic soda bottle.

Woodward said meth cooks typically find a way around laws designed to reduce their access to ingredients, but he said Oregon's law requiring a prescription for the medications, passed in 2005, has proven over time to have reduced the number of meth labs found in that state from 400-500 per year to about 10 per year.

"I think it's they (meth cooks) just don't want to go to the doctor and be examined," in order to obtain a prescription, Woodward said.

The leader of the state Senate, President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, told reporters during a press briefing that he has struggled with the proposal.

"I think the big issue on pseudoephedrine was the physical impact it would have on people that are law-abiding citizens. For them to have to turn around and go to the doctor and get a prescription, we're throwing the burden on them."

Activist David Starkey of Claremore, who has pushed for restrictions on pseudoephedrine, compared any burden to restrictions placed on travel following the 9/11 terror attacks.

"Just like airport security, you've just got to adjust with the times," Starkey said. "Because things have advanced in the meth-cook market."

Oklahoma City resident Kanda Ramos said she has "mixed feelings" about having to get a prescription for cold medicine.

"I personally don't like it, because I'm not an abuser, and the few times I do need it I have to go through hell and high water to get it," Ramos said.

"But I can understand their point in doing it because there are people who have abused it and that was one of the main reasons of methamphetamine laboratories, so I can understand why."

Ramos said she is also concerned about having to pay for a doctor visit in order to get a prescription for the medications.

Tibbs' bill is pending in the state House's Public Health Committee.

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