NASHVILLE (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday proposed legislation that would require a prescription to obtain more than a 20-day supply of cold medicines used to make methamphetamine.
The Republican governor said the bill is meant to target illegal drug production with medicines such as Sudafed, which contain pseudoephedrine, while also maintaining access for people who need it.
"You've got to remember that 97 percent of people buying pseudoephedrine are buying it for legitimate reasons," Haslam said. "They're out there with real cold and sinus problems."
Under the governor's plan, people could buy up to 2.4 grams each month of products used to make meth. That's about 10 days' worth of the maximum dose. Pharmacists could allow another 10 days' worth, but anyone needing any more would have to get a doctor's prescription.
The monthly amount of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine that could be purchased without a prescription under Haslam's proposal is the equivalent to the average annual total purchased by Tennesseans.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a pharmaceutical industry group, said it opposes what it called "severe restrictions" on cold and allergy medications.
"For too many Tennessee families, the proposal is tantamount to a prescription mandate and imposes unnecessary burdens on law-abiding citizens' time and pocketbooks," the group's president, Scott Melville, said in a release.
Haslam said setting the limits would make it more difficult for meth producers to accumulate as much pseudoephedrine as possible by sending out straw buyers – a process known as "smurfing."
"Will this stop smurfing? No," he said. "Will this make it harder? Yes. And we want to do what we can to make it hard."
Haslam's office noted that 268 children were removed from their homes last year due to meth-related incidents and nearly 1,700 meth labs were seized.
The governor's proposal comes just weeks after a Vanderbilt University poll showed that two in three Tennesseans would support requiring a prescription to buy medicines used to make meth.
Haslam said the sentiment reflected in that poll may lead some lawmakers to pursue a more aggressive approach, and said he welcomes a robust debate.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said that meth has been a particular problem in rural East Tennessee, and that he's sympathetic to calls to crack down harder. But he said putting a prescription-only law on the books could put off a lot of people with routine health problems.
"I think that would work until a mom's driving home from school one day, and her kid has a snotty nose and she stops in to buy some Sudafed, and that pharmacist says, 'By the way, you have to go to the doctor,'" he said.
Mark Gwyn, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, thanked the governor "for understanding and hearing the cry of law enforcement, who for many years have been drowning under this scourge of methamphetamine."
Doug Varney, the commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said 650,000 people buy meth in Tennessee each year, and that most of the drug consumed in the state comes from Mexico.
"We're going to continue to have a meth problem, but this will make a huge dent, we think," he said.
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