The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, an Arlington, Va.-based group that represents drug manufacturers, had lobbied against the legislation. The trade association also paid for a flurry radio ads, urging people to call lawmakers and urge them to oppose the bill.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, who voted against the bill, said West Virginia already has a problem with prescription-drug abuse -- and requiring a prescription for another medication wouldn't fix things.
"What this does is, it makes it move underground, just like our prescription pain medication is already," Barnes said. "We don't have a handle over what moves underground."
Barnes noted the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association recently voted to take a neutral position on the bill. Barnes said law enforcement officers don't want to lose a pseudoephedrine-tracking system called NPLEx. Police use the computer system to identify people who purchase large quantities of the cold medication.
The Randolph and Upshur county sheriff's departments are among the state's top NPLEx users.
"We've given law enforcement the tools to work with so that they actually found the meth labs," said Barnes, adding that NPLEx has helped officers make 67 arrests in Upshur County alone.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association plans to pull the plug on NPLEx in West Virginia if a prescription law goes into effect.
The Senate tweaked the bill Tuesday, adding a provision that allows people to keep a small amount of the cold medication without facing prosecution -- at least the first time they're caught with the drug.
People arrested for possessing about three boxes or fewer of the medication without a prescription won't be convicted if they show they bought pseudoephedrine lawfully in another state and didn't intend to use it to make meth.
"You can get out of it one time," Palumbo said. "Beyond that, you're put on notice."
The bill next moves to the House of Delegates, where lawmakers have supported similar legislation in previous years.
"It's going to be a battle in the House, just like it was a battle here," Tucker said. "Our vote was a strong message that we feel there's a problem. The public also feels there's a problem."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.