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Carper: House changes to meth lab bill would fuel 'pill mills'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Criminals convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine would still be able to get their hands on the cold pills that fuel their meth labs, under legislation on the floor of the House of Delegates today.

Convicted meth makers would have to get a doctor's prescription to buy pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient. Doctors would have no way of knowing if their patients were meth offenders, under the bill.

"This is an economic-development opportunity for 'pill mills,' " Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said.

Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee gutted a Senate bill (SB6) that aimed to reduce meth labs by requiring a prescription for cold medications containing pseudoephedrine -- sold under brand names such as Sudafed and Allegra-D.

The committee amended the bill, saying the changes mirrored Kentucky's law to restrict pseudoephedrine purchases.

A section of the legislation -- which dropped pseudoephedrine purchase limits from 48 grams to 24 grams each year - does match Kentucky's law. However, another section of West Virginia's bill -- a provision designed to crack down on meth offenders -- differs significantly.

Kentucky law prohibits anyone convicted of a meth crime from possessing pseudoephedrine medications. The ban lasts for 10 years -- or a lifetime if the person was convicted of manufacturing meth. There's no exemption that would allow felons to buy pseudoephedrine with a doctor's prescription in Kentucky.

Under the House of Delegates' amendment, meth offenders -- or anyone else convicted for any drug crime -- would be banned from purchasing the meth-making cold medicine, unless they had a prescription.

The House amendment also requires circuit court clerks to report the names of people convicted of drug crimes to a pseudoephedrine tracking system called the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx.

But the amendment says drug offenders could still buy pseudoephedrine with a prescription -- NPLEx wouldn't block those purchases. It presumably would stop only purchases from drug offenders who try to buy the cold medicine without a prescription -- although the House amendment doesn't make that clear.

Doctors don't have access to NPLEx -- only police and the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy do. Doctors wouldn't know if patients had a meth conviction.

"We're going to allow meth addicts and meth makers to go to the doctor and get endless prescriptions," Carper said. "The fact is, this is nothing like Kentucky's law. Their law is radically different."

Carper has asked Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Dan Holstein to review the House version of the bill.

Delegates Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, and Cindy Frich, R-Cabell, sponsored the House amendment, which the Judiciary Committee passed unanimously on a voice vote Tuesday night.

Under the Senate's original pseudoephedrine prescription bill, West Virginia doctors could monitor purchases through the state's Controlled Substance Monitoring Program database.

West Virginia authorities seized 533 meth labs last year, nearly double the number of labs found in 2012. Police busted labs in 45 of West Virginia's 55 counties.

Drug industry lobbyists have argued that requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine would exacerbate West Virginia's problem with prescription drug abuse. Law enforcement authorities have countered that the legislation would reduce meth labs significantly, allowing narcotics officers to spend more time battling prescription drug abuse.

Right now in West Virginia, people can buy an unlimited supply of pseudoephedrine, provided they have a prescription. Without a prescription, they can buy up to 48 grams of the cold and allergy medicine, or about 20 boxes.

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


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