Missouri House members narrowly endorsed legislation Tuesday intended to crack down on the state's methamphetamine problem by requiring people to obtain doctors' prescriptions to buy certain cold medicines that contain an ingredient used to make the illegal drug.
The legislation would require a prescription to buy hard tablet medicines with pseudoephedrine, which is a common ingredient in cold and allergy medications such as Sudafed, Claritin-D, Advil Cold & Sinus and Mucinex-D, but it also is used to produce meth.
Liquids and gel-caps containing the substance could still be purchased without a prescription. The legislation would expire in 2013, two years after it would take effect.
Lawmakers voted 80-71 to give the legislation first-round approval. But it would need at least 82 "yes" votes on final House action to move to the Senate. Lawmakers also face a tight deadline because they cannot pass legislation after May 13.
Bill supporters say controlling access to medicines would help Missouri get a handle on its meth problem. Missouri has had more meth lab incidents than any other state in recent years, though it was surpassed last year by Tennessee.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster both have endorsed following Oregon and Mississippi in requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine, and supporters note that meth lab incidents have declined in those two states.
Several Missouri cities and counties have approved local ordinances requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine.
"This offers a real enforcement tool to curtail the abuses of this very, very dangerous drug," said Rep. Jean Peters-Baker, D-Kansas City.
Missouri already has mandated that the medicines be moved behind the pharmacy counter, limited the quantities people can buy and required photo identification to purchase them. Recently, the state implemented an industry-funded electronic database to provide real-time tracking of pseudoephedrine purchases with the hope of blocking sales to people stockpiling the drugs. The pharmaceutical industry has said lawmakers should wait to see if the electronic database works before trying something new.
Critics contend that requiring a prescription would burden consumers who are seeking relief from colds and allergies. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association that represents manufacturers of over-the-counter drugs this year has run radio ads against the Missouri legislation. The industry group says most consumers oppose a prescription requirement.
Rep. Nick Marshall said it was not right for people following the law to be required to get a prescription for medicine to relieve their colds or allergies.
"Methamphetamine is a scourge in this state, but we do have a duty to balance the people's freedom and their safety," said Marshall, R-Platte City. He voted against the legislation.