CHARLESTON - Consumers would be limited to buying 24 grams of cold medicine each year, half what's currently allowed, under legislation approved by lawmakers late Tuesday that is aimed at curbing methamphetamine production in West Virginia.
The legislation originally required a prescription for Sudafed and other over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine, which is used to make meth. But after more than three hours of discussion, the House Judiciary Committee agreed instead to cut the current 48-gram limit in half. The lower threshold matches the new standard in Kentucky.
The bill also would create a meth offender registry and require previous drug offenders to get prescriptions for some cold medications.
Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said law-abiding citizens shouldn't face extra burdens to get medication because of the illegal acts of a few citizens.
"This is fair and equitable," Sponaugle said.
The amended legislation now aligns with suggestions Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey made before the Legislature convened in January.
Kentucky State Police Capt. James Stephens said it was too early to interpret results from his state's new 24-gram limit, which took effect last spring. He noted that people find ways to circumvent the laws by sending others to buy their legal limits of cold medicines.
Authorities busted 533 meth labs in West Virginia last year - almost twice as many as in 2012. Labs were found in 45 of the state's 55 counties. Of those labs, 70 percent were of the "shake and bake" variety, which use two-liter or smaller bottles, said state Board of Pharmacy Executive Director David Potters.
Oregon and Mississippi adopted laws requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine. Steep declines in meth labs followed, but the Consumer Healthcare Products Association disputes the effectiveness of the bans.
The over-the-counter drug and retail industries oppose a prescription-only requirement, while law enforcement and medical practitioners are among those supporting it.
The Senate easily passed the original prescription-only bill on Feb. 18. Some over-the-counter alternatives can't easily be turned into meth, such as Nexafed and Zephrex-D. The original Senate bill would have kept those products available without prescriptions.
The House still needs to pass the amended bill and compromise on a final version with the Senate. The legislative session ends Saturday.
Last week, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour sent West Virginia lawmakers a letter supporting the prescription-only push. Barbour, who signed Mississippi's bill into law in 2010, said his state experienced an 83 percent reduction in meth lab-related incidents and a 98-percent drop in operational meth labs.
"Naysayers predicted that Medicaid costs would skyrocket, and the public outcry would affect re-elections," Barbour wrote. "I am happy to say that simply did not happen."