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Prescription Only Bill Could Soon Resurface for Springfield Council

While Sudafed contains the active ingredient pseudoephedrine, Sudafed PE does not/Credit: Scott Harvey

With two weeks left in the Missouri legislative session, it remains unclear if lawmakers will enact further restrictions on products containing pseudoephedrine. Failure to do so would put the ball back in the Springfield City Council’s court.

Last year, Council appeared close to passing a citywide prescription only bill, but a push to delay a vote by Councilmen Craig Fishel until after the 2014 legislative session won approval by a 5-4 margin. Fishel told council members last August that he hopes lawmakers can find a statewide solution, adding that “If they can’t, and we happen to see a trend [in meth production] in the wrong direction, I think we readdress it in June.”

Recently reached by phone, Fishel acknowledged the uncertainty behind such a bill this session, but was still holding out hope.

“If nothing happens in Jeff City, then we [council] have to probably reevaluate. But I still have a hard time wanting 180,000 people inside the City of Springfield having to get a prescription for even a half dozen or a dozen labs, when they can go out of the city to almost any city around here and buy the same products across the counter,” Fishel said.

Fishel was referring to what he believes to be a downward trend in local meth labs, noting just four as of March, according to the latest published report by Police Chief Paul Williams (Update: As of 5/05/14 There have been five labs, Williams told KSMU). The councilman remains opposed to a prescription only bill, but Fishel does say he’s open to a compromise with fellow council members.

In its lists of legislative priorities approved in November, council agreed to include some flexibility in the language concerning methamphetamine production. It calls on lawmakers to introduce and/or support a bill regulating the availability of medicines containing pseudoephedrine and the local manufacturing of methamphetamine, including the option of limiting the availability by prescription only.

“Last year, I got the bill passed in my first year out of the House – it was my bill – and I got it passed out of the House. And it wasn’t near as good a bill as the one this year that we haven’t got out of committee yet.”

That’s Republican State Representative Lynn Morris, of Nixa, sponsor of HB 2147. His legislation would limit the amount of grams of a methamphetamine precursor drug that can be possessed, as well as lower monthly purchasing limits. If a person meets certain limits within a 12-month period, then they would need to get a prescription.

Morris, who is also a pharmacist, says his bill would allow professionals the “discretion to, in good faith, refuse to sell” any methamphetamine precursor drug and not be subject to criminal or civil liability.

“These pharmacists know better. They know that these people are not using it for the right reasons. And they don’t want to sell it, but they’re also afraid of losing their jobs and it puts them in a hard spot. Well my bill would actually protect those pharmacists, and allow them to make a professional judgment that they’ve been trained to do in school and not sell it.”

Back in March, when there were still two months to go in the legislative session, Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams did not appear optimistic that anything would get done, noting a failure of state lawmakers to do anything the previous several years. On Monday, Williams told KSMU he believes “nothing is going to happen on this issue.”

While he’s encouraged there is still some discussion and there have been several different types of bills filed pertaining to combating meth, none, he said, work to require a prescription only, a position he favors.

“To me the number one way to keep this drug from being used to manufacture an illegal narcotic is to prevent the availability to those that don’t need it. Those that do need it, I think we need to make sure that they get it, and let’s control it and make sure that the right people are getting it for the right reasons,” Williams said.

Williams adds that local cities that have passed prescription only bills, like Joplin and Branson, have seen success with that approach. He thinks passage in Springfield could invite buy-in from other area communities. 

Authorities have discovered on averaged 67 meth labs over the last five years. While that rate is down significantly so far this year, each lab proves costly for taxpayers, says Williams, citing a recent report by the Community Partnership of the Ozarks that shows a per-lab cost of over $24,000. That’s factoring in costs to law enforcement, for cleanup, health, and social services if children are involved, says Williams.

“67 labs a year that’s $1.6 million a year it’s costing the citizens…. to combat a problem that could be, in my view, eliminated, if not reduced dramatically by doing one simple thing, and that’s returning pseudoephedrine to a prescription only where it was in 1976.”

Williams objects to the argument that requiring a prescription would cost the consumer more, saying physicians will work with patients to limit office visits, and that other over-the-counter options could be just as effective as pseudoephedrine-based drugs.

Williams says he is encouraged by the decreasing number of meth labs, but acknowledges that there is still a serious meth problem. The same goes for Councilman Fishel, who believes the main issue is not derived from local manufacturing of the drug, but rather it being brought in from outside the state.   

“The problem is the meth addicts, and the meth that’s being brought in. And I don’t know if law enforcement is the way to go or if mental health is the way to go. We need both,” Fishel said.

The Missouri legislative session ends May 16.