CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most members of a Kanawha County drug abuse task force support requiring a prescription to purchase a cold medication that's also used to make illegal methamphetamine in clandestine labs.
But the task force's leader says the group will remain open to other suggestions to curb the county's growing meth lab problem.
"We're trying to be inclusive," said Dr. Dan Foster, a former state senator who's heading the task force's first meeting today at 1:30 p.m. at the Kanawha County Courthouse. "This is a fact-finding group. We're starting out with an open mind."
For years, Foster has been a vocal proponent of making the cold medication pseudoephedrine prescription-only as a way to reduce the number of meth labs in the state. Law enforcement agencies have found a record-number of the clandestine labs this year. Pseudoephedrine -- better known under brand names such as Sudafed and Claritin-D -- is a key ingredient in meth.
Foster said the task force would collect information, take testimony, question witnesses and review laws at meetings modeled after U.S. congressional hearings. Committee members plan to question drug industry representatives and retailers who have lobbied against past proposals to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine.
"It's important for us to understand their budget in this for lobbying and marketing," Foster said. "The public should be aware of that."
Bridget Lambert, a retail store lobbyist and task force member who opposes the prescription requirement, said she realizes she'll be outnumbered on the panel. But she said she hopes they'll listen to her suggestions.
"I'm going to go in there with an open mind and explain this is not a one-fix issue," said Lambert, executive director of the West Virginia Retailers Association. "My hope is that Kanawha County will take a comprehensive look at this issue. There are many ways to attack this problem."
Other task force members who oppose making pseudoephedrine prescription-only include Carlos Gutierrez, state government affairs director for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, and Richard Stevens, a lobbyist for the West Virginia Pharmacists Association.
Stevens said a pseudoephedrine prescription law could drive up costs for pharmacies and consumers.
"I'm hoping there will be an open discussion of all sides," Stevens said.
Since January, all West Virginia pharmacies have been reporting pseudoephedrine sales to a national computerized tracking system called NPLEx. The system has blocked about 3 percent of pseudoephedrine sales in West Virginia, after people tried to exceed monthly and yearly limits.
Some law enforcement officials say the system isn't working, noting the sharp increase in meth labs.
But NPLEX supporters question whether the electronic system is being used as intended: to track criminals who try to buy excessive amounts of the cold medication.