Crime & Courts

Cold-med bill debated

TOPEKA — Arguments over whether to make medicine such as Claritin-D, Zyrtec-D and Advil Cold & Sinus available only by prescription came down to costs in a Senate committee this week.

Proponents cited the high cost of methamphetamine use on society. The over-the-counter cold medicines contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make meth.

Opponents cited the increased cost and inconvenience of treating a cold because users would have to go to a doctor to get the medicine.

The Senate Committee on Local Government spent two days listening to testimony regarding Senate Bill 131 and expects to vote on it Monday.

At the hearing's start, Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, chair of the committee, pointed to a half-page advertisement in The Eagle that read: "Kansans don't need government in their medicine cabinet."

"That just sets the stage," he said.

The ad was paid for by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the primary opponent of the bill.

Brad Smoot, a representative of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, estimated that members of his organization would spend an extra $1.18 per person per month — or about $55 annually for a family of four — to get the medications.

"It seems like this is a step in the wrong direction and it will have an unintended impact on the legal users of these medications," Smoot said.

But Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, asked 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.

And meth poses other costs to the state, the bill's proponents argued.

"We just allocated $600,000 over the next two years to clean up meth labs," said Rep. Vince Wetta, D-Wellington, after the hearing Monday. He said the federal government is cutting funding for cleanup, so the state will have to pick up the tab.

"Where are the millions going to come from that we'll have to pay in years to come if we don't stop this problem?" he said.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said she is not opposed to the concept, but added, "My big concern would be for individuals who are uninsured who don't have a primary doctor to get a prescription."

There were 143 meth incidents — discovery of labs, equipment or dump sites — in Kansas in 2010, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Wichita police say they sent officers to clean up 22 meth labs in 2009 and 11 in 2010. Capt. Randy Landen credited the drop to a recent law that restricts the purchase of such drugs. Some of the police responses were to assist the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office. He said the number of calls so far in 2011 is three.

Tracking system

Currently, only two states — Oregon and Mississippi — require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine. The bill could affect an estimated 500,000 pseudoephedrine transactions each year in Kansas.

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

The state is working on a system for tracking purchases of the drug to limit how much is bought. The state bars buying more than 3.6 grams in a single purchase or more than 9 grams within 30 days.

Opponents of the bill asked senators to give the state time to implement the system for tracking the drugs.

The "tracking program should be given a chance to demonstrate how it can be effective," said Ron Hein, a representative of chain grocery stores in Kansas.

Mandy Hagan, a lobbyist for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, told the committee that Kansas already has taken steps to control the drug, such as putting pseudoephedrine products behind the pharmacy counter and placing limits on purchases.

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 visits a year.