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Tomblin mum on pseudoephedrine prescription requirement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While Gov. Earl Tomblin touted his accomplishments at addressing the state's rampant drug abuse problem in his State of the State address, he did not say whether he would take his advisory council's primary recommendation to curb the state's epidemic of methamphetamine labs.

Tomblin talked about the addition of recovery coaches in north central West Virginia to help those graduating from substance abuse treatment programs and new detox stabilization units that will operate in the Northern Panhandle as well as Greenbrier and Logan counties.

He did not say whether he would support a recommendation from the Governor's Advisory Council on Substance Abuse to make pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient in meth -- available only by prescription.

"His own council has recently voted to make [pseudoephedrine] a prescription," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha Charleston Health Department and a member of the county's meth task force. "We hope that he supports it."

Advocates for making the drug prescription-only say it will reduce the number of meth labs, which are costly and dangerous to clean up.

"We have to data to show that making Sudafed a prescription does impact the meth labs," Gupta said. "It's enacted in Mississippi and Oregon and it's working there."

The governor hasn't always agreed to every recommendation from the advisory council. In 2012, Tomblin rejected the council's recommendation that he raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to pay for drug-treatment programs.

Gupta said he hopes this recommendation has better luck, because it doesn't require increased taxes.

Other recommendations to curbing the state's meth problem have included making it illegal for someone to purchase pseudoephedrine after they've been convicted of creating a meth lab. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has also suggested lowering the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can purchase.

Tomblin didn't mention any of those recommendations.

"I think the most effective way would be to make it a prescription only and not have it over the counter at all," said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. "That would probably help reduce the number of meth labs through out the state dramatically."

Gupta and Bryant commended Tomblin's in-home care registry, which would help families research the backgrounds of home care workers.

The registry will include only providers who have passed a background check and will include the caregiver's level of training and expertise, Tomblin said. He said it would "help give West Virginians the peace of mind they deserve, when searching for a provider to entrust with the care of their loved ones."

"Giving people information about in-home care givers is a very good idea," Bryant said.

Absent from Tomblin's speech was any mention of the state's expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which has, so far, allowed more than 80,000 low-income West Virginians health care.

Last year, Tomblin expanded the state's Medicaid program to cover those who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level line.

As of earlier this month, 82,000 people had signed up for health care under Medicaid. Most have signed up through auto-enrollment letters and follow-up phone calls from workers at the Department of Health and Human Resources.

The lack of health care talk may have been due to a sort of "fatigue" about the issue because of the Affordable Care Act, said Tony Gregory, vice president for legislative affairs at the West Virginia Hospital Association. By all accounts, Medicaid enrollment seems to be progressing well, he said.

"I just think the challenge going forward is to keep the momentum going and to encourage the concept of healthy lifestyles and improving our population's health," Gregory said.

Bryant said DHHR workers deserve recognition for their efforts in enrolling people in Medicaid.

"The expansion of Medicaid has had a greater impact on lower income families than anything [Tomblin has] done in his administration," Bryant said. "He ought to take credit for it and certainly West Virginians for Affordable Health Care is appreciative of what he did."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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