A Mercer County delegate hopes to amend a bill that would require West Virginia residents to get a prescription for cold and allergy medications containing the drug pseudoephedrine, a substance used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said the present bill, which passed the Senate requires all residents to get a prescription for cold medications made with pseudoephedrine or “Sudafed” products.

“We don’t want to prevent law-abiding citizens from getting this medicine,” he said. “With the Senate bill that came over, even if you have one pill on your person and no prescription, you could be in violation of the law, which I totally disagree with.”

Ellington said amendments he has proposed would narrow the number of people who would to impacted by the law. Under the amendments, only people convicted of previous drug offenses would be required to get a prescription for pseudoephedrine products. These people would be flagged by the computer system the West Virginia State Police uses to monitor sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

People who are “chronic users” who buy the products constantly would be required to get a letter from their medical provider stating why the drug is needed, Ellington said.

“The amended bill has penalties for smurfing. That’s buying for somebody else to make meth. The first offense is a misdemeanor and the second offense is a felony. Tampering with it (Sudafed medications), and making meth with it, is a felony,” he said.

Other parts of the bill excuse pediatric doses of the drug and tamper-resistant doses, Ellington said.

“All we’re doing is to make it prescription only for previous drug offenders or chronic use,” he stated. “That way, everybody else gets normal amounts.”

The Senate bill eliminates the computer system used by the state police to monitor sales of cold medicine containing the ingredient, but the amendments would keep it in place, he said.

State Senator Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said amendments had been proposed in the Senate, too. One would allow the computer tracking system to stay in place. Another would allow people to purchase a 90 day supply of the cold medications without a prescription.

The computer tracking system is a good “real time” tool that allows police to see who is buying large amounts of Sudafed products, Cole said. Making cold products prescription medications would put them under federal confidentiality laws, making them harder to monitor.

Like Ellington, Cole said that under the current draft of the bill, even one Sudafed pill without a prescription would be a violation of the law. This could be a problem, especially for border areas like Mercer County where people could unwittingly bring home these products. Only two other states, Mississippi and Oregon, have prescription cold medicine laws.

Cole said that both he and State Senator H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, voted against the bill.

“We’re just punishing good, honest, law abiding West Virginians,” Cole said. “There are only two states in the whole country where you need a prescription to get Sudafed medicine, and there’s absolutely no proof it does anything about meth labs. Hopefully, they’ll fix it in the House.”

Ellington is “well respected” in the Senate, and many of the proposed amendments are the result of his work, Cole said.

 Requiring prescriptions for cold medicines could also cost both the state and its citizens millions of dollars, he added. A researcher at West Liberty University, Professor Serkan Catma, has estimated that the measure could cost a total of $247 million over 10 years. Approximately $146 million would be cost to the state, and the remainder would be incurred when people have to take time off from work and make other adjustments in order to get the necessary prescriptions.

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