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Requiring prescription for cold medicine would cost families

Requiring a prescription for a cold medicine ingredient that’s used in meth will cost a family of four about $50 a year, Kansas lawmakers were told this morning.

Speaking on behalf of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas, Brad Smoot said the bill would cost $1.18 per person per month. The extra cost would come from visiting a doctor to get the prescription, plus a dispensing fee plus the cost of the drug.

“It seems to us this is a step in the wrong direction in terms of cost,” Smoot told the Senate Local Government Committee this morning.

State Sen. Richard Kelsey, a Goddard Republican, quickly responded. He asked Smoot how much Blue Cross was spending to treat meth addicts.

“Your medical costs for treating people with meth are far more than $1.18 a month,” Kelsey said.

The committee today held the second of two hearings on a bill that would make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug. Pseudoephedrine is often sold in products more commonly known on the market as Advil Cold & Sinus, Mucinex D and Sudafed.

A group of police officers, doctors and pharmacists appeared before the Senate committee Monday, asking lawmakers to pass the bill. They argued that tighter controls would aid the war on meth. This morning, it was the opponents turn.

Opponents of the bill asked Senators to give the state time to implement a system for tracking the sale of the drug.

By April, the state hopes to start a computer network that will follow purchases of the drug to limit how much is bought.

State law bars anyone from buying more than 3.6 grams in a single purchase, or more than 9 grams in 30 days. The goal is to stop meth cooks and their confederates from going from pharmacy to pharmacy to buy the drug.

Ron Hein, representing chain grocery stores in Kansas, predicted that the new law would be cumbersome for law-abiding residents who simply need relief for a cold.

The “tracking program should be given a chance to demonstrate how it can be effective against the local production of methamphetamine before additional steps are taken by the government in infringing on law-abiding citizens by forcing them to take additional burdensome steps,” Hein said.

A lobbyist for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association contended that pseudoephedrine is a “safe and effective” ingredient used in cold and allergy medicines.

Mandy Hagan told the committee that Kansas has already taken steps to control the drug. They include putting pseudoephedrine products behind the pharmacy counter and placing limits on purchases. The state also requires purchases to sign a log book that can be accessed by law enforcement.

She also argued that requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine will not deter criminals as well as raise health care costs. She said if half the 16 million Americans who used the drug had to go to the doctor to get a prescription it would translate into $750 million worth of doctor’s visit a year.

The bill, which has the support of the committee’s chairman, is expected to be voted on next Monday.

State Sen. Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican, sits on the committee and opposes the bill.

She has reservations about impeding someone’s access to get an over-the-counter drug because of the illegal actions of others.

She said she wants the state to get the tracking system up and running quickly.

“No matter what you prohibit,somebody is going to find a way around it,” Huntington said.

Monday on a bill that would make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug.

Pseudoephedrine is a cold medicine ingredient, but it’s also used to make illegal methamphetamine.

A group of police officers, doctors and pharmacists appeared before the Senate committee, asking lawmakers to pass the bill. They argued that tighter controls would aid the war on meth.

“There is one common denominator in the domestic production of meth, and that is pseudoephedrine sold over the counter without a prescription,” said John Keele, chief of the Parsons Police Department. “Pseudoephedrine is the one ingredient that cannot be substituted in the production of meth.”

Pseudoephedrine was sold over the counter with no restrictions from 1976 to 2005, according to testimony. The Kansas Legislature took steps to restrict access to the drug in 2005 and again in 2007.

Among other things, the state is working on a system for tracking purchases of the drug to limit how much is bought. State law bars anyone from buying more than 3.6 grams in a single purchase, or more than 9 grams in 30 days.

But meth cooks have a reputation of going from store to store, buying the legal maximum of cold medicines.

Before Monday’s hearing, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association launched a pre-emptive strike against the bill with newspaper ads in Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita assailing the proposal.

“Kansans don’t need government in their medicine cabinet,” the ad stated.

The ad cites a study noting that 70 percent of the public opposes this kind of “prescription only” law.

“Let’s work on solutions that preserve families’ access to these medicines and punish criminals, not patients,” the ad said.

The organization expects to testify when opponents are heard this Tuesday morning.

Sen. Kelly Kultala, a Kansas City Democrat, and Sen. Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican, both pressed law enforcement about the practicality of the law during Monday’s hearing.

Kultala wondered aloud about what would happen to someone who was feeling ill on a Friday night who might not be able to get to a doctor for a prescription over the weekend. Supporters agreed there could be an inconvenience.

Police Chief Sean Wallace of Arkansas City agreed but asked what law doesn’t inconvenience someone. He also noted that there are plenty of substitute drugs on the market.

“It’s not about inconvenience. It’s about doing the right thing,” Wallace told the panel.

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