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Most House panel members backed meth lab bill in 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If members of a House of Delegates committee vote the same way this week as they did in 2011, they will pass legislation that aims to eradicate methamphetamine labs in West Virginia by requiring a prescription for a cold medication used to make meth.

On Monday, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said state lawmakers have more of a reason this year to support the bill, which would require a prescription for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient.

Meth lab seizures have more than tripled in West Virginia -- from 154 labs in 2010 to 533 labs last year.

"It is so much more clear now than it was then that we need to do this," Carper said. "This is about a serious, life and death public health crisis."

Also, the current bill (SB6) exempts "tamper-resistant" pseudoephedrine products, such as Nexafed and Zephrex-D, that can't easily be converted to meth. Those medications, now sold in pharmacies across West Virginia, weren't on the market in 2011.

In 2011, 14 current members of the House Judiciary Committee's 25 members voted for a pseudoephedrine prescription bill. Four members of the same committee voted against the legislation three years ago, while seven members weren't on the panel back then.

That year, the full House of Delegates voted 77-23 for the prescription bill, which died in the Senate on a tie vote.

Another change since 2011: The federal government has done away with a program that reimbursed states for meth lab cleanup costs.

Now, the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund is picking up the bulk of those cleanup expenses, though the Senate passed legislation (SB204) last week that would no longer allow meth costs to drain the fund. The House has yet to vote on the legislation.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association -- a trade group representing manufacturers of over-the-counter medications -- has launched campaign against the pseudoephedrine prescription legislation. The statewide media blitz includes radio spots, and newspaper and Internet ads urging West Virginians to call their legislators and tell them to oppose the bill.

  The drug industry trade group also has hired a stable of West Virginia lobbyists, including Nelson Robinson, Chad Robinson, Sam Minardi and Abby Sobonya, whose mother, Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

"The only thing that seems to have changed from three years ago is that they have more lobbyists, and maybe better ones," Carper said.

The drug industry says the prescription requirement would drive up health care costs and inconvenience consumers because they would have to visit a doctor. Pseudoephedrine is sold under brand names such as Sudafed, Claritin-D and Mucinex-D.

Several House members have said they've received numerous phone calls from constituents, including senior citizens, who want them to oppose the prescription bill.

"They're all calling," said Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo. "I would rather see this bill studied than run it through this session."

House members weren't up for re-election the same year as their vote in 2011. This year, they are -- all 100 House seats.

"If you're making a public safety vote, you vote for this bill," Carper said. "If you're making a political vote, then you vote with the well-heeled lobbyists."

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the bill today.

Current committee members who voted for the prescription bill in 2011 were: Delegates Tim Manchin, Mark Hunt, John Ellem, Patrick Lane, Barbara Fleischauer, Linda Longstreth, Clif Moore, Meshea Poore, John Pino, Bill Hamilton, Woody Ireland, Danny Wells, John O'Neal, and John Overington.

Committee members who voted against the legislation that year: Delegates Kelli Sobonya, Mike Manypenny, Michael Ferro and Eric Householder.

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


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