Miss. Senate panel OKs prescription for cold pills

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 28, 2010

JACKSON (AP) — Legislation that would require a doctor’s prescription to purchase cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in methamphetamine, has been approved by two committees and received the support of Gov. Haley Barbour.

The Senate Judiciary B Committee on Wednesday passed its chamber’s version of the bill. The House Judiciary A Committee passed a similar bill Tuesday.

If it becomes law, Mississippi would become the second state in the country with the requirement. Oregon passed its law in 2006.

The Senate action came after lawmakers heard from law enforcement agents, judges and a representative of drug manufacturers.

Hinds County Court Judge William Skinner said more than 500 cases have come through his drug courts in the last three years. He said many youth are now mixing meth with crack cocaine.

‘‘Now, the crack high lasts two or three days, and kids at college are taking it to lose weight,’’ said Skinner.

Skinner said the state’s paying the cost for the epidemic because children of meth addicts usually end up in foster care. He also said the average rehabilitation for a meth user is nine months, compared to about a month for a crack addict. He said only 10 percent of meth addicts successfully kick the habit. The rate is 40 percent for crack users, he said.

Skinner urged lawmakers to pass the bill.

‘‘Is this the perfect answer? No, it’s not. But if we eliminate them being able to walk in a drug store and walk into a gas station to get pseudoephedrine, (meth use) will stop.’’

Gloria Williamson, a lobbyist for Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a group that represents over-the-counter drug makers, said implementing a real-time tracking solution would be a better option for the state. The system could track purchases of pseudoephedrine and alert law officers when large amounts are bought.

‘‘I’m concerned about struggling single moms and all the people who can’t afford to go to the doctor now, and we’re sending them to the doctor to pay an extra $40 or $50 more,’’ Williamson said.

The governor threw his support behind the bill during a news conference earlier this week. Barbour said he takes pseudoephedrine daily, but he didn’t think it would be a burden to residents to go to the doctor’s office for a prescription when they have a cold.

‘‘It’s a small price to pay,’’ Barbour said.

House Judiciary A Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said he would bring his bill up for a vote in the full chamber on Thursday.

Sen. Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville, unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill on Wednesday to include the tracking system proposed by the drug makers.

‘‘I didn’t see any reason why that would prevent them from implementing both things in Mississippi if we’re trying to eliminate the problem. We should use every means we can,’’ Walls said.

Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, has filed a separate bill for the proposed tracking system.