By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Report
Just a week ago, HB88 passed out of the Alabama House Health Committee, the bill was designed to drastically curtail the availability of the key chemical ingredients found in methamphetamine, commonly called, “Meth.” The bill would make these chemical obtainable only by a doctors’ prescription. The problem for some critics and consumers is that these are the active ingredients in the world’s most popular cold and allergy medicine such as Sudafed, Allegra D, TheraFlu, Zyrtec-D and Claritin-D.
On Monday, Rep. Blaine Galliher (R-Gadsden) filed a bill that would severely restrict the sale of these products but stop short of making them prescription-only medicines.
The former bill has had the endorsement of some in law-enforcement. Galliher says he has been a long-supporter of law enforcement and acknowledges that there are those in the field that have advocated for the prescription-only bill.
“I want to give law enforcement every tool we can to help them fight illegal use but also allow the consumer the opportunity to purchase this medicine without having to have a prescription to receive their sinus and cold medicine,” said Galliher.
The Commander of the Etowah County Drug Task Force, Rob Savage, says he believes this bill gives law enforcement many of the tools they have been needing to fight this heinous crime adding, “I believe this is a commonsense approach, that also strengthens our ability to fight this crime.”
Galliher said that six years ago the legislature enacted a law that tracked and restricted the sale of Oxycontin, a prescription narcotic that has been widely abused in the state and county. “We fought that battle and implemented the tracking, but still today we are fighting that drug,” said Galliher.
Galliher, who along with his pastor, were successful in opening a drug treatment facility for women in his district has a hands-on knowledge of addiction and it devastating effects on lives. “Sadly, with all the safeguards we put in place, Oxycontin is still abused today.”
Galliher says he wants to make it difficult for abuser to get the ingredients for making meth but find a balance they does not raise the cost and inconvenience lawful users of allergy and cold medicines.
On Tuesday, the BCA (Business Council of Alabama) said in a written statement, “The proposed legislation (HB88) would require individuals to obtain a prescription for products containing common cold and allergy remedies such as pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropamine, in an effort to combat the manufacturing of methamphetamine. While the BCA recognizes the critical need to eliminate meth labs in Alabama, requiring all employees to take time off work to visit their physician to obtain a prescription for common cold and allergy medications would result in increased employee healthcare costs and reduced worker productivity.”
Many business groups have leveled complains against the prescription-only law and have encouraged lawmaker to find a middle way.
Task Force Commander Savage, who serves on the Alabama State Drug Task force, said that the Galliher bill has a provision were by after the bill passage and implemented, that at the end of the first year the state task force will evaluate the success of the bill based by using law enforcement data and then make recommendation to the legislature as to how the law is working and if it needs to be straighten. “This let’s us take logical steps to implement a law that works for everyone,” said Savage.
“I believe this abuse of pseudoephedrine is a terrible thing, it is horrible and destroys lives,” said Galliher, this is why this bill gives law enforcement new abilities to pursue those who abuse the drug in a new and aggressive manner.” Savage says that he agrees with Galliher’s assessment and is thankful that those on the frontline of the drug wars will be better equipped under the proposed law.
Galliher said, “The fact is 95 percent of the people who purchase products made with pseudoephedrine are using it for legal reasons.”
While Savage acknowledges a recent rise in meth labs, says that 90 percent of the meth sold and consumed in Etowah County is smuggled in by the Mexican drug cartels.
Savage says the uptick in meth labs is because of a rise in cost for the imported drugs due to boarder and local interdiction.
Many have pointed to prescription laws enacted in Mississippi and Oregon as models of success of that type of law. Mississippi has reported a 70 percent drop in meth lab bust. However, a report from Cascade Policy Institute, an Oregon free-market, public policy research organization released a study that said, “Making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug did not reduce the impact of methamphetamine on the state, and likely caused harm to legitimate cold and allergy medicine users.” The report concludes that, “Meth lab incidents in Oregon dropped at around the same rate they did nationwide, and most of the drop occurred before our Rx-only law went into effect in 2006.”
Alabama is currently using a real-time, stop-sale technology called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to block the illegal sale of pseudoephedrine while still allowing retail sales to legitimate customers. It has been reported that in one year since implementation, NPLEx potentially kept more than $30 million of meth off the streets. Under the new law NPLEx use will be straightened and pseudoephedrine will only be able to be purchased at pharmacies and sold under the supervision of pharmacist.