INDIANAPOLIS - Requiring people to have a prescription to buy cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine could help staunch methamphetamine abuse, supporters told Indiana legislators Monday, but critics said it would just intrude on sick people's rights and raise the cost of health care.
Indiana lawmakers are considering whether to give local governments the option of requiring prescriptions for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make meth. The House Committee on Courts and Criminal Procedure listened to about three hours of testimony Monday, but didn't take a vote on whether to send the bill to the full House.
Indiana police agencies seized more than 1,800 methamphetamine labs last year, a number that has increased for seven consecutive years despite the strengthening of state laws restricting sales on the decongestant pseudoephedrine, according to a report released Friday by state police.
Some supporters said that proves the need to make the restrictions even stronger, but others weren't so sure that was the solution.
Indiana Retail Council president Grant M. Monahan said requiring prescriptions for drugs with pseudoephedrine was bound to increase the cost of health care, as people would have to take time off work and pay for doctors' visits, plus pay for the medicine.
"This would take away the rights of law-abiding citizens," said Kevin J. Kraushaar, a lobbyist for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
As meth laws have become stricter, meth makers have circumvented the limits by having other people buy the cold medicine on their behalf, a practice known as "smurfing," said Sgt. Niki Crawford, commander of Indiana's Meth Suppression division.
"Not only do people run out and get their milk before the storm," Crawford said, referring to the rush on grocery stores ahead of last week's wintry blast, "they're running out and getting their pseudoephedrine before the storm."
Several who testified for and against the bill described meth use in Indiana as an epidemic.
"If this were an Ebola virus epidemic, no one would blink at doing a quarantine," said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.
While Drug Enforcement Agency statistics have said most of the meth abused in the United States is smuggled in from Mexico, police who testified Monday said they believe most of the meth used in Indiana is brewed in homemade chemical sets small enough to fit in a soda bottle.
Still, opponents said the well-intentioned bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz, might prove ineffective while intruding on individuals' private health care.
"This bill means citizens will be denied the right to treat their own health care conditions," said Kraushaar.