CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After brushing aside pressure from drug industry lobbyists, the West Virginia Senate passed legislation Tuesday that aims to reduce methamphetamine labs across the state by requiring a prescription for cold medications containing an ingredient used to make meth.
Senators said they have to do something to stop West Virginia's growing meth lab problem, even if it means inconveniencing some consumers who rely on cold-relief products like Sudafed and Claritin-D to clear up stuffy noses.
West Virginia law enforcement officers seized 533 meth labs last year, a record number.
"It's unfortunate we had to go down this route, but this is a plague," said Sen. Craig Tucker, D-Nicholas. "The only way you can stop a plague is with strong medicine, and I believe that's what this is."
Senators voted 25-9 to approve the bill, mostly along party lines with Democrats strongly backing the legislation.
Sens. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, and Chris Walters, R-Kanawha, were the only two Republicans who voted for the bill. Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, was the only Democrat to oppose it.
Three years ago, the Senate killed a similar bill that would have required people to get a doctor's prescription before they could buy cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient.
Several senators who voted against the bill in 2011 changed their minds about the legislation this year.
The legislation (SB6) approved Tuesday exempts so-called "tamper-resistant" pseudoephedrine products, such as Nexafed and Zephrex-D, which can't easily be converted into meth. Those medicines weren't available in 2011.
Also, legislators said they couldn't ignore the spike in meth labs statewide, from 222 in 2011 to 533 last year. Police discovered meth labs in 45 of West Virginia's 55 counties in 2013.
Meth labs damage property, injure children and drain law enforcement agencies, state lawmakers said.
"Meth has become such a scourge on our society," said Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha. "This is the best thing we can do to eradicate these labs. I believe it's the right thing to do."