By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Report
Two competing bills have recently passed out of House Committees regarding pseudoephedrine the active ingredient in the manufacture of “Meth.”
The bills are HB363 sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher (R-Gadsden) and HB88 by Mike Millican (R-Hamilton).
Both bills are designed to limit addicts and illegal drug manufacturers access to the chemical compounds that are required to make the powerful narcotic methamphetamine.
Millican’s 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.
Galliher’s bill would severely restrict the sale of these products but stop short of making them prescription-only medicines.
In the coming days, Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R- Madison) will introduce SB344 which is a companion to Galliher’s bill and Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) will sponsor the companion to Millican’s HB88.
“In the off season we had two senators come out with competing bills that were the same bills but competing relating to pseudoephedrine. One was by Senator Bussman and one was by Senator Bedford,” said Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison). He said that after looking at the bills he was concerned about overburdening “doctors’ offices with people having to go to a doctor and pay a co-pay to get a prescription to go get a drug that you can get right now.”
During this time he said he learned of Galliher’s bill and contacted him immediately for a meeting.
“This is a very controversial subject,” said the Chair of the Senate Judicial Committee Cam Ward, (R-Alabaster). “A few years ago Alabama changed its laws to make it tougher to obtain pseudoephedrine. Since that time there has been a push to make the law go even further.”
There has also been some disagreement within law enforcement as to which bill should become law.
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.
“Another important piece to it that sometimes I think is overlooked, Galliher and I are working on a part that expands into the drug paraphernalia aspect that law enforcement doesn’t currently have any kind of leeway into,” said Holtzclaw. “What is important to me is that expands beyond that to the law enforcement realm that says if law enforcement makes a bust and while they are there they recognize that there are Drano bottles over here, 9 volt batteries over there and ammonia over there this guy is getting ready to cook meth he is just waiting on the ingredient.” Law enforcement can make the arrest based upon this paraphernalia.
“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.
“I have been told that in the most recent meth lab busts, 80 percent of the pseudoephedrine confiscated is not pseudoephedrine used for something else. It is coming in from Mexico. It is a off brand name that is coming in from the South,” said Holtzclaw.
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.”
Millican’s bill is a result of the reported success of a similar bill passed in Mississippi. in which the state has seen a 70 percent drop in Meth labs.
The facts have be born out that the western parts of Alabama have seen significant sales and crime relayed to meth-making ingredients and meth manufacturing.
Meth is a drug easily produced once the ingredients are gathered. It can be manufactured in barns, garages, back rooms of businesses, apartments, hotel and motel rooms, storage facilities, vacant buildings and even vehicles.
Savage, says he believes the Galliher and Holtzclaw bills will give 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 says he wants to make it difficult for abuser to get the ingredients for making meth but find a balance that does not raise the cost and inconvenience lawful users of allergy and cold medicines.
Recently the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) 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 complaints against the prescription-only law and have encouraged lawmaker to find a middle way.
“A lot of people do not want to have to get a prescription to purchase these most basic, cold and allergy medicines,” said Ward. “What I think we are seeing with what is being called the Holtzclaw compromise is something that retailers and small businesses as well as law enforcement feel comfortable with.”
“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.”
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.
The solution will come out of the Senate after the two competing bill have had their hearing.