Lawmakers are aiming to clear up false information regarding a bill designed to keep key ingredients for methamphetamine out of the hands of drug dealers.

House Bill 2946 aims to require a prescription for 15 over-the-counter allergy and cold medicines containing ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine. The bill was passed Monday by a margin of 77-23 and was communicated to the State Senate.

Before the bill went up before the House; however, pharmaceutical industry backed robocalls claimed the bill would raise drug prices and keep needed medications out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said he and other delegates have gotten hundreds of calls from concerned citizens who have received only partial information about the bill.

“It seems like there is a lot of not misinformation but partial information being transmitted to the elderly community via these robocalls,” Gearheart said. “Members of the pharmaceutical industry are targeting elderly people, telling them this bill would prevent them from getting cold medication without a prescription, and asking them to contact their legislators if they are against that. The switchboard then switches it over to our answering machines.”

However, Gearheart said the goal of the bill is not to make all cold medicine’s prescription drugs but instead to put prescriptions on cold medications that contain ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine, all of which are key ingredients used to make methamphetamine.

“Most of the folks haven’t heard the whole story,” Gearheart said. “The robocall simply asks people if they want a prescription to buy their cold medicine without telling them what the bill really entails. Several other delegates and I have received literally hundreds of messages from constituents who haven’t been educated about what this bill is really about. There just isn’t a full display of information with this robocall.”

According to Gearheart, plenty of evidence from other states backs up the legislator’s decision to put more restrictions on certain cold medication.

“The main goal of this bill is to get ingredients in meth away from those who would use them to make meth, and that is why I voted for it,” Gearheart said. “There are over a hundred different things available for people to buy instead. We have evidence from similar legislation enacted in Mississippi and Oregon that this will work.”

Gearheart said most people are for the bill once they have been given a chance to fully analyze it.

“When I have gotten back to some of the people who have left messages and explained this to them, they suddenly agree and want us to vote for this bill to keep meth out of their community,” he said. “With the problems we already have in Bluefield, we don’t need to add methamphetamine to the list.”

Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, also wants to assure constituents money on medicines will not be raised.

“I’ve read that bill through and through,” Moore said. “I’ve been in two committees that bill has gone through and I voted for the bill when it came up on the floor. There is nothing in this bill that prevents people from getting medicines they need. We passed this bill to stop meth labs.”

Moore said the misinformation spread about the bill has hidden it’s true purpose.

“There is a lot of misinformation about this bill floating around,” Moore said. “We only passed this bill so we would see a reduction of meth labs in the state. Other states have seen 60 to 80 percent decrease in meth labs due to similar legislation at no cost to law-abiding citizens. Drug usage in our part of the country is an epidemic and we need to stop this epidemic.”

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, is also a licensed physician and a co-sponsor of House Bill 2946. Ellington said he has also received similar calls from constituents and said not all of the information about the bill is being presented in the robocalls.

“Pretty much, the bill looks at crack down on methamphetamine production,” Ellington said. “Ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine, those three ingredients are precursors to meth and are found easily in several common, over-the-counter cold medicines like Claritin D or Allegra D. These medicines have a decongestant and an antihistamine in them with sudafed. This would set up a barrier where people who make meth can’t send in tons of other people to go in and by tons of these drugs to use.”

Ellington said some measures are already in place to stop the flow of meth in West Virginia, but more efforts are needed.

“We’ve seen an increase in meth here and we are trying to slow down ‘smurfing’,’ which is people going from drug store to drug store and buying up these products,” Ellington said. “We’ve found it had some success, but they’ve started to use other people’s IDs to avoid getting caught. We’ve already instituted putting these drugs behind the counter and logging who buys what, but that can only do so much.”

Ellington said a lot of information presented to citizens in the robocalls was incorrect or presented in a false light.

“One of the main concerns from these robocalls is cost and we will not see an increase in costs to these medications,” he said. “As a physician, I know I don’t want to be writing more prescriptions than I absolutely need to. Most physicians will grant prescriptions to their patients without them needing to pay for an office visit every time they get a cold, especially if they have a long-standing relationship with those patients. This bill will only affected 15 cold remedies. There are hundreds of others that can be used in their place.”

Colonel T. S. Pack, Superintendent of the West Virginia State Police, voiced his support of the bill as well through a statement issued by the state police.

“Meth labs affect all of us because there are very volatile solutions that can cause explosions and fires in house, apartments, vehicles, and even motel rooms,” Pack said in the statement. “Three children were killed one week ago, aged 1, 3, and 4, in a meth lab in Atlanta. Meth users have a large amount of child abuse and neglect due to the fact the addiction is so strong they lose even the sense of personal hygiene.  Meth addicts don’t care about themselves much less their children. Officials from Mississippi and Oregon estimate 60 to 80 percent of all pseudoephedrine sold in their states before the scheduling was used for the production of meth.  It will be very easy for the legitimate consumer to obtain pseudoephedrine with a doctor’s prescription, which can be done once or twice a year if needed.”

Pack said meth is starting to hit home in West Virginia as well.

“West Virginia costs for lab cleanups in 2009 were $391,400 and $473,300 in 2010, which is just the cost of chemical cleanup,” he said. “This cost has been taken care of by the DEA in the past; however, funding has been depleted and now West Virginia will be paying for its own cleanup.This bill only affects 15 products in the stores and there will be over 130 cold and sinus products in the store to be sold over the counter.”   

According to Ellington, a minor inconvenience at the pharmacy counter is worth curbing meth usage in West Virginia.

“It may be an inconvenience to some people, but with the risk to society meth poses, I think it’s worth it,” Ellington said. “Law enforcement are very behind this bill. It’s a small price to pay to get our kids off of this stuff and stop the traffic of it in and out of our state.”

— Contact Kate Coil at

kcoil@bdtonline.com

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