Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster want to make Missouri the third state to require a doctor's prescription to buy cold and allergy medicines that can be used to make the illegal drug methamphetamine.
Nixon and Koster announced their support Tuesday for legislation imposing a prescription mandate on medications containing pseudoephedrine, which is sold under brands such as Sudafed, Claritin-D and Aleve Cold & Sinus.
Missouri for years has led the nation in busts of methamphetamine labs, even while enacting increasingly stricter laws that moved pseudoephedrine-based medicines behind the pharmacy counter, limited the number of pills people could buy, required photo identification and - this September - began tracking pseudoephedrine purchases in an electronic database.
Proposals to require prescriptions for the medication have been rejected in the past by the Missouri Legislature and face opposition from the pharmaceutical industry. But Nixon and Koster said more safeguards are needed.
"The destructive effects of meth are well-documented - the ruined lives of addicts, the harm to children in homes where it is produced, the danger to neighbors and public safety personnel, and the burden on law enforcement and the mental health and corrections systems," Nixon said in prepared remarks for a news conference at the Jasper County sheriff's office in Carthage. "This deadly drug cannot be allowed to fester in Missouri. We have already enacted several measures to fight meth, but it's time to take this significant next step."
The governor's announcement was viewed as a surprise - and a reversal - by some in the pharmacy industry who have been working with Nixon's administration to implement a statewide database for pseudoephedrine purchases.
"We were very aggressive on trying to get this electronic tracking system off the ground. Pharmacists had made a commitment to retool their shops and equipment to make this thing work," said Ron Fitzwater, CEO of the Missouri Pharmacy Association. "We thought we were on the same page - that we were going to at least give this a shot before we started considering other options."
Fitzwater said many pharmacists have opposed a prescription mandate because of the inconvenience on people with stuffy noses, who would first have to visit a doctor - costing them additional time and money - before they could buy medicines to relieve symptoms of the common cold.
But some police have said a prescription mandate is the best way to limit the supply of pseudoephedrine to meth makers.
"Requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine will finally give law enforcement an edge in a battle in which too often the numbers have been stacked against law enforcement," said Col. Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Since Oregon became the first state to enact a prescription requirement in 2006, its meth incidents have fallen from about 400 a year to just five so far this year, Nixon said. Mississippi has seen a 65 percent decrease in meth incidents since its prescription requirement took effect in July, Nixon said.
Unwilling to wait for the state to act, the eastern Missouri town of Washington because the first city in the U.S. to enact its own ordinance requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine in June 2009. Several other Missouri communities have since done likewise.
Nixon last year applauded those cities' efforts but stopped short of endorsing a statewide prescription requirement, expressing a desire to balance anti-meth laws with people's ability to obtain cold medications.
The Missouri Senate defeated a prescription mandate for pseudoephedrine 18-6 during its 2009 session. Earlier this year, the House voted 134-22 against an amendment to a crime bill that supporters said would have required a prescription for pseudoephedrine.
One side effect of a prescription requirement for pseudoephedrine could be a reduction in tax revenues, because prescription drugs aren't subject to sales taxes in Missouri. The state's legislative oversight office has estimated Missouri would lose more than $100,000 of sales tax revenues if the prescription mandate were to pass.