SC bill would require prescription for cold meds as part of war on meth

abeam@thestate.comMarch 1, 2013 

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— A proposed South Carolina law would make you get a prescription to buy some common cold medicines.

The bill is designed to combat production of methamphetamine, or “meth,” a dangerously addictive drug that is also dangerous to make. But critics worry that the bill would do more harm than good, driving up costs for consumers and possibly increasing the state’s Medicaid costs.

South Carolinians already have to show their driver’s licenses to buy some cold medicines. But state Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, wants to require a prescription to buy any medicine that contains ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine – ingredients used in many over-the-counter cold medicines – but also the primary ingredients for meth.

Oregon and Mississippi have passed similar laws.

“It will be an inconvenience. There is no hiding from that,” Fair said. “It’s going to maybe shift the purchase to other states. It certainly is going to shift the manufacture of the stuff – and that’s what we are after. It is a public-safety measure.”

Opponents are mobilizing to stop the bill.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association retained the Greenville-based Felkel Group to lobby against the bill. A news release it issued quotes Tori Anderson, an Irmo mother of three: “When one of my kids get sick, I want to have access to a number of effective products to treat their symptoms. If Senator Fair’s bill becomes law, a number of good cold and allergy medicines will become much more expensive and harder to obtain.”

Attempts to reach Anderson were unsuccessful.

Last year, a State Law Enforcement Division report stated that meth labs are on the rise in South Carolina, noting that the state reported more meth lab incidents from 2008 to 2010 than its neighboring states reported.

The report, signed by public-safety officials from across the sate, recommended requiring a prescription for people to buy now-over-the-counter medications used to manufacture meth.

Doctors with the S.C. Medical Association have met with Fair to discuss the bill, according to Bruce Snyder, a Greenville-based vascular surgeon and the group’s president-elect. Snyder said the association has not taken a position on the bill yet.

“There have been a number of very innocent people, particularly young children who ... have been injured because of (meth lab) explosions. So, on the one hand, we are very concerned about that aspect of it,” he said.

Meth is explosive. Fumes created by its production also are toxic.

But, Snyder added, “We’re concerned if we make it a prescription-only medication, it will require a doctor visit, and in requiring a doctor visit – for almost all of us – that incurs an additional expense.”

Snyder wondered whether the bill would drive up the cost of Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

“There very well could be a fiscal impact. We’re analyzing it to try to understand what the cost might be,” said Tony Keck, the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the Medicaid program in South Carolina. “That doesn’t mean that cost is bad in this case because it might be solving another problem.”

Supporting the bill could be a difficult decision for lawmakers, who try to balance public safety with personal freedoms.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said doctors could call in prescriptions for patients who have colds, avoiding office visits. Even so, Hutto said an unintended consequence could be “flood(ing) doctor’s offices for requests for Sudafed prescriptions.”

“I’m not sure whether I agree with it or not,” he said.

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