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Tomblin's drug bill approved

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's wide-ranging substance abuse bill will go to the House of Delegates without a hotly debated provision designed to crack down on methamphetamine labs in West Virginia.

On Wednesday, state senators voted 34-0 to approve Tomblin's anti-drug bill (SB 437). The legislation did not include a requirement that pseudoephedrine, a cold and allergy medication that's also a key meth-making ingredient, become prescription-only.

State Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, called Tomblin's substance abuse bill a "missed opportunity."

"This is a good bill ... but it could have been so much better," Foster said during a floor speech Wednesday.

In recent weeks, Foster repeatedly championed the pseudoephedrine prescription requirement as the bill came up during Senate committee meetings.

Foster's Senate colleagues from Kanawha County supported the proposal, but health-care and retail industry lobbyists worked aggressively behind the scenes to persuade a majority of senators to reject Foster's legislative amendments to make pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

The number of meth labs in West Virginia has steadily increased since 2008. Meth lab seizures are on a record pace this year, according to the West Virginia State Police. Authorities have found meth labs in 37 of West Virginia's 55 counties since 2010.

"This is spreading across the state, this scourge," said Foster, a doctor at CAMC.

In recent years, meth-lab production has plunged in two states -- Mississippi and Oregon -- that have pseudoephedrine prescription laws, Foster said.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association and other industry groups have said that a pseudoephedrine prescription mandate would burden consumers and drive up health care costs.

That hasn't happened in Oregon and Mississippi, Foster told his Senate colleagues Wednesday.

"The public outcry that had been anticipated did not occur," Foster said.

Tomblin's bill includes a requirement that West Virginia pharmacies use a pseudoephedrine tracking system called NPLEx. The system is designed to stop sales of the decongestant to people who plan to use the medication illegally. The pharmaceutical industry will pay for the database.

Tomblin's bill would limit pseudoephedrine purchases to 7.5 grams per month -- down from the current 9-gram limit.

"The governor's legislation strikes the right balance by protecting access to law-abiding West Virginians while stopping criminals from illegally purchasing pseudoephedrine," said Sam Minardi, lobbyist for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Foster said the "real-time" electronic tracking system wouldn't decrease meth production.

"It has not worked to eliminate meth labs in states such as Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana," Foster said.

Foster praised Tomblin's bill for including new regulations for methadone clinics where people seek treatment for heroin addiction.

Foster said he also supported a section of Tomblin's legislation that requires West Virginia pain clinics to be licensed -- a provision designed to clamp down on prescription painkiller abuse.

However, Foster noted that Tomblin's bill didn't include any funding to combat substance abuse in West Virginia.

"This is an important piece of legislation, and there is much to like ... but unfortunately there are huge missed opportunities," Foster said.

Tomblin's substance abuse legislation also requires stepped up tracking for prescription pain medications.

Also Wednesday, the state Senate approved a bill (SB 342) intended to relieve state prison and regional jail overcrowding by helping inmates break drug and alcohol addictions, and to be able to reenter society more quickly and successfully.

The Senate bill was a refinement of the recommendations of a House-Senate interim committee on overcrowding

The Senate bill emphasizes substance abuse treatment for new inmates on the front-end, and provides for better transition out of prisons on the back-end.

The bill also provides $640,000 a year in state funding for an inmate substance abuse recovery program.

The legislation next goes to the House. The legislative session ends March 10.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 


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