Indiana lawmakers aim to restrict access to meth ingredients

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The leaders of Indiana communities hit hard by methamphetamine are arguing for a state law requiring prescriptions to buy cold and allergy pills that contain the key meth ingredient pseudoephedrine, but lawmakers don’t appear ready to go that far.

Indiana has long been at the center of the national meth epidemic. It had more meth-related incidents than any other state in 2013 and appears poised to top the 2014 list as well, according to data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, president of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said Vigo County was one of the first areas to experience problems tied to meth production and still has significant issues today.

Bennett said about 60 percent of Vigo County jail inmates are arrested on a meth-related issue, “whether they’re making it, selling it or committing some other crime to feed their habit.”

He asked lawmakers to do something to “put a bigger dent in this scourge that affects all of us,” noting that previous laws haven’t solved the problem.

Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee members are considering a bill that would require someone with a felony drug conviction within the last seven years to get a prescription before purchasing medicine containing pseudoephedrine.

An amendment to the bill, backed by Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, would make pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug for all consumers, not just convicted felons.

Similar legislation has passed in Oregon and Mississippi, but previous efforts in Indiana have been unsuccessful.

Lawmakers and many opponents of the measure say they are hesitant to compromise the rights of law-abiding citizens who legally obtain and use the over-the-counter cold and sinus medications. It’s unclear what direction they’ll choose or how such laws will be enforced.

“The prescription solution is not viewed by all, including knowledgeable law enforcement, as the only or right solution,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “It is unpopular with many members of the public, so we’re going to have to keep looking for answers.”

State law allows consumers to buy up to 61.2 grams of pseudoephedrine a year. A bill passed in 2013 requires pharmacies to use a tracking system managed by the National Precursor Log Exchange. The system monitors pseudoephedrine sales in Indiana and helps law enforcement track where large quantities are purchased.

A proposal backed by Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, would require courts to report drug-related convictions to the tracking system. Anyone on the “meth-offender block list” would need to present a prescription before a pharmacist can process the transaction.

Sgt. Christian Gallagher of the Terre Haute Police Department said the tracking system measure was a great idea at the time but hasn’t prevented meth cookers from obtaining pseudoephedrine.

“What it has basically done is raise the black market value of a box of pseudoephedrine,” Gallagher said, noting that meth makers are still getting the product they need through intermediaries.

“Anybody who knows a meth addict knows that just having the sale blocked is not a permanent deterrent. I would think of it more as a delayed sale,” he said. “That’s where the prescription is 100 times more effective.”

Dr. Richard Feldman, director of the family medicine residency program at Franciscan St. Francis Health in Indianapolis, said the prescription requirement doesn’t target drug trafficking and would burden doctors who are already overwhelmed during the flu and allergy seasons.

“Wait times will increase for patients that have even more significant reasons to see the doctor,” Feldman said.

Creating the “meth-offender” list could be a problem as well. Indiana State Police Sgt. Niki Crawford, who oversees the agency’s meth suppression unit, said the state’s current criminal history system only documents a person’s name and date of birth. Without further identifiers, such as a driver’s license number or address, Crawford said it’s possible that someone without a drug conviction could be mistakenly added to the list.

Removal from the list would involve an administrate law committee hearing to prove innocence, Crawford said.

Young said he will work with law enforcement to come up with a solution.