Bill placing tighter limits on cold medicine purchases moves forward in House

Bill aims to combat meth production

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana would tweak its drug laws to combat methamphetamine and synthetic drugs such as “bath salts” under two measures that received hearings in a legislative panel on Wednesday.

The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee took testimony, but delayed a vote, on bills that have already won the state Senate’s approval.

The most controversial measure, Senate Bill 496, would allow Hoosiers to purchase only eight months’ worth of over-the-counter drugs containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine each year. To get more than that, buyers would need doctors’ prescriptions.

It’s an effort by Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, to limit access to a key ingredient in the meth-making process. Indiana already caps the amount of those medicines that purchasers can obtain in a day or a month, but does not impose a yearly limit.

Yoder said he was “trying to strike a balance between not penalizing those innocent people … and catching those bad guys who are trying to use this for nefarious means.”

Meth-related bills sometimes struggle to gain traction because the issue is regional in nature. In 2012, Vanderburgh County ranked second in Indiana with 90 meth lab busts – yet Marion County, the state’s most populous, had only two meth lab busts. 

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, who plans to testify when the same committee meets next week, has argued for Indiana to require doctors’ prescriptions before customers can buy medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

That’s a major step beyond what Yoder’s bill would do, and it’s one that the Indiana Conference of Mayors has pushed through an initiative dubbed “Trust Local,” even though that group also says it supports Yoder’s proposal.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association – the lobbying group for companies that make and sell over-the-counter medicine – commissioned a poll that found 54 percent of likely Hoosier voters oppose requiring prescriptions to buy those medicines.

That organization said it prefers Yoder’s bill, which would add an annual limit of 61.2 grams of pseudoephedrine per Hoosier without a prescription to Indiana’s already-existing limits of 3.6 grams that buyers can purchase per day and 7.2 grams per month.

“It strikes a reasonable balance between the needs of a law-abiding patient and the request that law enforcement has made in terms of restricting access to these medicines,” said Carlos Gutierrez, the group’s senior director of state government affairs.

Yoder touted other provisions tucked into his bill, including a requirement that those who are convicted of meth-related offenses first get doctors’ prescriptions before buying medicines with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine for the next seven years.

It would also increase the state’s penalties for property damages that occur as a result of meth-related fires and explosions, and would beef up penalties for “smurfs” who purchase medicines intending to turn them over to meth-makers.

Another measure that received a hearing, but not a vote, on Wednesday would aim to tackle “bath salts,” which have effects similar to cocaine but can be legally purchased at gas stations and other retail outlets, and other similar substances.

Senate Bill 536 would allow the Indiana Board of Pharmacy to declare items such as those to be “synthetic drugs,” and therefore subject to the state’s drug laws.

The problem lawmakers are trying to tackle is with products that are similar to illegal drugs, but aren’t already on Indiana’s list of controlled substances, said Jordan Stover, the legal counsel for the Indiana State Police.

“When people are saying that it has a certain effect, and it’s only being used for one purpose – and that’s to sell to people to get high – but it isn’t on the current list,” those sellers and users can’t be prosecuted, he said.

 

Follow Norman Cox on Twitter: @normancox6

Follow Eric Bradner on Twitter: @EricBradner

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