Internal debate keeps Senate's meth bill in limbo for another day

03/01/2012 06:06 PM

Top-ranking Republican senators were left Thursday still trying to rustle up enough votes to pass a bill that would limit access to a key ingredient in the destructive drug methamphetamine.

Earlier in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the latest approach to tighten regulations on cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine by a 7-4 vote. It would cap the amount Kentuckians could buy over the counter to 3.6 grams per month — about the equivalent of one box of 15 Claritin-D pills per month.

That’s different from the initial approach Republican Senators Robert Stivers and Tom Jensen took with an earlier bill that would have required all Kentuckians to get prescriptions for such medicine. That bill prompted strong opposition from over-the-counter drug makers, whose industry group has been running radio ads against that measure.

Stivers, the GOP floor leader from Manchester, said Thursday lobbying had picked up against the new version — Senate Bill 3 — because the industry and some Senators thought the limit was too low.

The Republican majority caucus met behind closed doors twice Thursday while the Senate was in session to huddle about the bill.

The 23 members of the caucus vowed in December to make decisions collectively. And the meth bill’s immediate future rests in whether a majority of those 23 want to proceed with it and are prepared to support some version of it.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville has sponsored counter-proposals that the drug industry supports.

Rhoads, by late Thursday, had prepared an amendment that would have doubled the proposed limit to 7.2 grams per month.

Rhoads spoke about the amendment after Thursday’s session:

Both sides have framed the debate, to some degree, as being about the rights of the many versus the rights of the few.

Proponents of the approach to limit pseudoephedrine or require a prescription have said the priority should be public safety. They want to stymie meth makers from concocting the addictive drug — as well as from making it in unstable labs that jeopardize others. That, they say, outweighs the inconvenience it would cause to law-abiding allergy sufferers.

Drug makers and lawmakers who oppose the bill argue that the actions of “a few” smurfers and meth makers shouldn’t override the ability of citizens to easily get allergy and cold medicine.

Carlos Guitierrez, of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association that has run ads against previous pseudophedrine-limiting bills, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that drug makers considered the 3.6-gram cap too restrictive. But he said the group was pleased Stivers and Jensen had backed off their previous bill, Senate Bill 50, that would have put cold and allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine behind the counter.

Earlier this session, Jensen pledged to have a vote on the Senate floor on a measure that required a prescription to purchase medicine with pseudoephedrine.

- Video and reporting by Don Weber with additional reporting by Nick Storm and written by Ryan Alessi

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