Sunday, April 1, 2012

Managing drug abuse in Kentucky

I was in Kentucky for a few days this past week to give talks at the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky law schools. This gave me the opportunity to travel some of Kentucky's less traveled roads (namely route 60 between Louisville and Lexington)--and also to read some Kentucky newspapers (not to mention getting caught up in a touch of NCAA Final 4 madness). One story I read in Lexington's Herald-Leader was headlined, "Meth, pain-pill measures win approval." It reported on two bills "designed to tackle Kentucky's problems with methamphetamine labs and prescription drug abuse." The story quotes House speaker Greg Stumbo as stating that "the two measures could become the landmark legislation of this year's General Assembly."

By a 60-36 vote, the Kentucky House approved Senate Bill 3, "which would further limit the amount of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine that consumers could buy without a prescription. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient used in making meth."

This bill would require residents to get a doctor's prescription to buy more than 7.2 grams of pseudoephedrine a month and 24 grams/year. "Gel caps and liquid pseudoephedrine would be excluded form the limits of SB 3 because making meth form those forms is considered more difficult." Sponsors of the bill initially wanted even lower limits on purchase of the substance, but they ultimately compromised with those who were more concerned not to create an inconvenience for allergy sufferers. The journalist noted that the pharmaceutical industry had lobbied hard against any requirement for a prescription. On the other hand, those supporting SB 3 offered "horror stories" about children and police officers "put at risk by toxic, explosive meth labs." In the past, the legislature has agreed to restrict pseudoephedrine sales by tracing them electronically, requiring a signature and photo-identification for purchase, and placing the pills in secure areas behind store counters. But that didn't solve the meth lab problem, so now even more restrictions are coming," according to one opponent of SB 3, who sees it as unduly infringing on civil liberties.

"Meanwhile, the Senate approved House Bill 4, which transfers from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Service to the attorney general's office an electronic monitoring system that keeps track of prescriptions for pain pills. The vote was 26-9." This bill will "more closely regulate pain clinics." One of its key provisions will transfer oversight of "the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting program" to the Attorney General's office. Previously, health care professionals oversaw the program, a system that has not worked well.

Both bills are likely to go to conference committees to negotiate differences in the two chambers' version of the bills.

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