By Beth Musgrave – firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — Supporters of a bill that will require prescriptions for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine hope that excluding some of those medicines will be enough to get the measure through the full Senate.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky State Police are struggling to find money to pay for methamphetamine laboratory cleanups because two key federal grants are about to dry up.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Friday that supporters of the bill are considering excluding cold medicines in gel form from the prescription mandate. It is more difficult to extract pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, from the gel or liquid capsule forms of the cold drugs.
Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, and sponsor of the Senate Bill 45, said he was not sure whether the tweak to the bill would be enough to get the measure through the Republican-controlled Senate.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month but has not passed the full Senate — in part because of strong and well-financed opposition from the over-the-counter drug companies. Many legislators have heard from constituents who say that they do not want to go to a doctor to get a prescription for about a dozen cold and allergy medications that contain pseudoephedrine
“If that would get it passed, we would certainly do it,” Jensen said of the changes. “I have not talked to enough people yet who have said that would change their minds.”
But Jensen said that the compromise was only floated on Friday. He plans to talk to more legislators Tuesday when the legislature returns for the final two weeks of the session.
Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, and sponsor of similar legislation in the House, said some of her colleagues have said they would vote for the bill if some over-the-counter drugs that contain psuedoephedrine were still available.
“More of them said that they would support the bill,” Belcher said.
But over-the-counter-drug industry representatives said they would not agree to such a compromise and that it would be unlikely to cut the number of methamphetamine labs in Kentucky.
“According the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, PSE (psuedoephedrine) in gel cap or liquid formulations is ‘readily extractable,’ meaning it can still be used illegally to make meth,” said Elizabeth Funderburk, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
In addition, she said, the extended relief forms of medication used by many consumers are not available in gel caps.
Meth lab numbers grow
The state’s narcotics officers counter that current restrictions on the amount of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine that consumers can buy aren’t working. Meth cooks are asking addicts and others to buy cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine for them, skirting the current limits. The number of meth labs have sky-rocketed in Kentucky over the past several years. The Kentucky State Police recently reported 1,080 meth labs in 2010.
In states that have passed bills requiring prescriptions for pseudophedrine-containing cold medicines, the number of meth labs has plummeted, supporters of SB 45 said.
Even if the bill is not passed this legislative session, the state’s meth lab problems are not going to go away, Jensen and Belcher said.
“Whether we pass it or not, it is causing a lot of discussion,” Jensen said. “I think it’s inevitable that something like this is going to pass.”
Paying for cleanup
While the bill is being debated, state and federal law enforcement officers are looking for new ways to pay for cleanup of the growing number of meth labs.
Lt. Col. Joe Williams of the Kentucky State Police, said a federal grant of $450,000 that the state has used since 2007 to pay police overtime for meth lab cleanups and to buy some equipment — such as respirators — will be depleted by this summer.
But what could be even more devastating for the state is the loss of a Drug Enforcement Agency-administered grant that pays to dispose of the toxic waste from meth labs. Currently, 15 of the state’s 16 police posts have waste containment boxes that the state police and some local police use for refuse from meth labs. The DEA then pays a contractor to remove that waste.
The DEA has said that the contract to dispose of that waste will expire in April, Williams said.
Officials with the DEA were not available for comment Monday, which was a federal holiday.
It’s not clear whether state police will have to absorb the cost of that contract.
Karen Kelly, director of Operation Unite, a drug task force in Eastern and Central Kentucky, said counties and city police and the task force take their meth lab waste to the Kentucky State Police sites.
“Whose going to pay for it?” Kelly said. “These small jurisdictions can’t pay for it.”
Williams said that state police are trying to find more grant money to replace the $450,000 grant.
“We may have to absorb those costs in our current budget,” Williams said. “We are actively trying to find grant money.”