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Lawmakers tighten pseudoephedrine limit in drug bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers modified Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's sweeping substance abuse bill Monday night, slashing the monthly amount of pseudoephedrine -- a popular cold and asthma medication that's also used to make methamphetamine illegally -- that consumers could buy in West Virginia.

By a voice vote, the House Health and Human Resources committee dropped the monthly pseudoephedrine purchase limit from 7.5 grams to 3.6 grams. The committee also set a yearly limit of 24 grams. The governor's bill and the Senate's version had a 7.5-gram monthly limit and no yearly limit.

Health Committee members say the lower amount would save lives and test whether an electronic pseudoephedrine tracking system -- called NPLEx -- works.

"The Health Committee did its job," said Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, who heads the committee. "It advocated for the health of West Virginians. I'll take today."

Lobbyists for the pharmaceutical and retail industries fumed after Monday night's committee vote.

"They messed it up. We'll get it fixed in [the] Judiciary [Committee]," said Sam Minardi, a lobbyist for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which wants the 7.5-gram limit restored.

Carlos Gutierrez, government relations director for the Washington, D.C.-based health-care products group, said people who have asthma and allergies use more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine per month.

"We don't think the lower limit considers therapeutic and medicinal need," Gutierrez said. "For chronic allergy sufferers, they would hit the limit very quickly and have to go to the doctor for a prescription."

West Virginia has 173,000 asthmatics, and 20 percent of those are children, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

More than 218,000 West Virginians suffer from nasal allergies.

Gutierrez said most states use the 7.5-gram pseudoephedrine limit. No states have gone as low as 3.6 grams.

The bill next goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

West Virginia's current law limits pseudoephedrine to 9 grams a month.

Tomblin's bill also requires pharmacies to adopt a "real-time" multistate tracking system for pseudoephedrine sales.

The NPLEx system -- paid for by the pharmaceutical industry -- is designed to stop illegal sales of pseudoephedrine, which is a key ingredient in making methamphetamine.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, and others have said NPLEx hasn't reduced the number of meth labs in the states already tracking pseudoephedrine.

Foster has proposed making the popular decongestant available by prescription only.

The Consumer Products Healthcare Association says that would drive up health-care costs and burden consumers who have legitimate reasons for purchasing pseudoephedrine.

On Monday, the health committee also amended Tomblin's bill so that the state's use of the NPLEx system would expire in two years.

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


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