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Morrisey backs lower limit on meth-making drug purchases

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As part of a package of reforms designed to curb drug abuse, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Monday that he would support a proposal to lower the yearly amount that West Virginians could buy of a cold medicine that's used to make illegal methamphetamine in clandestine labs.

Speaking to reporters, Morrisey said he would back legislation that dropped West Virginia's annual purchase limit for pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient.

Morrisey said the limit should be decreased from 48 grams per year to 24 grams per year -- or from about 20 boxes to 10 boxes of the cold medication sold under brand names such as Sudafed and Claritin-D.

"I think we can drop that down," Morrisey said at Monday's Associated Press Legislative LookAhead conference in South Charleston. "I think it's important for the Legislature to take action and lower the limit to 24 grams per year because I think that could reduce dramatically the rate of substance abuse in West Virginia."

Kentucky law limits purchases of pseudoephedrine to 24 grams annually -- the lowest limit in the U.S.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a Washington D.C.-based drug industry lobbying group, opposes the lower limit.

"West Virginia has already reduced its annual limit by more than 50 percent just a year ago," said Carlos Gutierrez, the trade group's lobbyist. "It's the second most stringent annual limit in the country next to Kentucky."

The West Virginia Board of Pharmacy supports lowering the yearly pseudoephedrine limit to 24 grams.

Also Monday, Morrisey stopped short of supporting a separate proposal that would make pseudoephedrine available by prescription only.

Several lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that would require a prescription for the cold and allergy medications. The bills would include exceptions for tamper-resistant pseudophedrine products, such as Nexafed and Zephrex, that can't be easily converted to illegal meth.

The legislation is designed to reduce meth production in West Virginia. West Virginia law enforcement authorities busted more than 500 meth labs last year, a record number.

"The labs and the proliferation of those labs has to be stopped," said House health committee Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne. "What we're talking about is the eradication of these labs."

Morrisey predicted the prescription requirement would drive up health-care costs.

But Perdue and former state senator Dan Foster said health costs have increased minimally in Oregon and Mississippi -- two states that require a prescription for pseudoephedrine. In Mississippi, the requirement is costing the state public employees insurance program about $60,000 a year.

"There's been no increase in the number of doctor visits," Foster said. "It isn't more expensive."

Foster also dismissed criticism that criminals would obtain unlimited quantities of pseudoephedrine pills from doctors and sell them illegally, if the medication became prescription only. Lobbyists have predicted that pseudoephedrine would be sold on the black market like prescription pills.

"You can already buy pseudoephedrine by prescription now, if you wanted to abuse it that way," Foster said.

As an alternative, Morrisey suggested that West Virginia establish a meth-offender registry. People convicted of meth-related crimes wouldn't be allowed to purchase pseudoephedrine, he said.

The over-the-counter drug manufacturers support that proposal.

Foster said public support for the pseudoephedrine prescription bills has grown. A recent Vanderbilt University poll showed that a majority of Tennessee voters backed the prescription-only requirement.

Gutierrez criticized the poll. "This same poll said President Obama would carry Tennessee," he said.

Foster called the Vanderbilt voter survey "one of the most respected polls in the U.S."

Morrisey's other proposed reforms to curb drug abuse included:

• The Attorney General's Office plans to provide 40 to 50 drop boxes for West Virginians to dispose of unused prescription medications.

• Supporting more regulations for illegal synthetic drugs.

• Working with attorneys general in neighboring states to create "no transport zones" for illegal drugs.

• Supporting proposals that would make it illegal for people to purchase pseudoephedrine for meth cooks, or for people to hire others to buy the cold medication. Police call the practice "smurfing."

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


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