CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Drug industry lobbyists say a proposal to require a prescription for some cold medications used to make illegal methamphetamine would inconvenience large numbers of law-abiding West Virginians who need the decongestant.
But supporters of the prescription requirement say new drug sales data shows most West Virginians aren't buying pseudoephedrine products such as Sudafed and Claritin-D.
Twelve percent of West Virginians bought pseudoephedrine last year, according to data obtained by The Charleston Gazette. And just 2 percent of West Virginians bought three boxes or more.
"For [lobbyists] to say it's affecting all these customers, and that's why legislators shouldn't support this bill, well, now, they can't really say that with these numbers," said Mike Goff, an administrator at the state Board of Pharmacy. "A large percentage of folks aren't affected. It certainly doesn't help their case."
Elizabeth Funderburk, a spokeswoman for a trade group that represents drug makers in Washington, D.C., said many West Virginians still "would be inconvenienced and incur significant and unnecessary costs" if the Legislature passed a prescription requirement.
"A prescription mandate would be very significant for the nearly 1 in 10 cold and allergy sufferers in West Virginia," said Funderburk, who works for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, has introduced legislation (SB6) that would bar pharmacies from selling pseudoephedrine unless customers had a prescription. The bill exempts two pseudoephedrine brands, Nexafed and Zephrex D, which can't easily be converted to meth.
Tucker and others believe making pseudoephedrine prescription-only would reduce illegal meth production in West Virginia.
Last year, police seized more than 530 meth labs statewide, nearly twice as many as in 2012.
"It's a plague," Tucker said last week after introducing his bill.
Under federal law, pharmacies can sell pseudoephedrine only to customers 18 years of age and older. However, parents sometimes buy the cold medication for their children.
The Gazette calculated that 12 percent of West Virginians bought pseudoephedrine at least once last year, based on the state's population of residents 18 and older.
Goff noted the percentage gets even smaller -- 9 percent of West Virginians purchased pseudoephedrine -- if you take into account the state's entire population.
"I didn't realize so few people were buying Sudafed," Goff said. "The numbers are really low."