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Drug trade group starts ads against cold meds prescriptions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two months before the start of West Virginia's legislative session, a drug industry trade group has started an advertising and letter-writing campaign designed to thwart proposals that would require a prescription for a cold medication that's also used to make methamphetamine in clandestine labs.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents over-the-counter drug manufacturers, rolled out ads this week on Charleston-area news websites. The Washington, D.C., trade group also has set up its own website, Twitter account and Facebook page.

The "Stop Meth, Not Meds" website includes a mechanism for sending a form letter to legislators, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who lobbied for drug distributors before taking office in January.

The letter urges state officials to reject legislation that would make cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine -- sold under brand names such as Sudafed, Claritin-D, and Aleve-D -- prescription-only.

"We know families rely on cold, sinus, and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine for relief, and we provide them with a platform to voice their opposition to prescription legislation," said Elizabeth Funderburk, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Across West Virginia, law enforcement agencies have seized more than 370 meth labs so far this year, topping last year's total of 288. Meth cooks use pseudoephedrine to manufacture the illegal drug. Meth labs have caused fires, exposed children to dangerous fumes and forced municipalities to pay expensive cleanup costs.  

House health committee Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, and Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, have said they would introduce bills that would ban drug stores from selling pseudoephedrine unless customers have a doctor's prescription. Oregon and Mississippi have such a law, and meth lab busts have dropped significantly in those states.

Perdue, a retired pharmacist, said Wednesday that his office already has received several form letters generated by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association website. He expects the trade group to intensify its lobbying over the next several months.

"This isn't unexpected at all," Perdue said. "They're protecting their wallet with one hand now. Pretty soon, they'll be using both hands." 

The drug industry trade group says prescription-only laws punish law-abiding cold and allergy sufferers. The group's website praises West Virginia lawmakers for passing a substance abuse bill in 2012 that establishes a pseudoephedrine tracking system called NPLEx.

All West Virginia pharmacies started reporting to the electronic system in January. NPLEx blocks pseudoephedrine sales when people try to exceed monthly and yearly limits set under state law.

Drug industry lobbyists initially said the tracking system would reduce meth labs. Now, those same lobbyists assert that NPLEx is an investigative tool that's helping authorities find the clandestine labs -- at homes, apartments, hotel rooms and storage units.

The "Stop Meth, Not Meds" website allows people to enter their addresses and zip codes, and provides a form letter that can be sent by email or fax. The list of recipients includes House and Senate leaders from both parties, as well as local legislators.

The letter starts, "I am writing you today to encourage you to oppose legislation that would force me to obtain a doctor's prescription before buying safe and effective medicines containing pseudoephedrine ... "

Senate President Jeff Kessler's office hadn't received any of the form letters as of Wednesday, according to Kessler spokeswoman Lynette Maselli. Tomblin's office received about 50 letters, while House Speaker Tim Miley was sent 79 form letters, spokeswomen for Tomblin and Miley said. Other state offices said they would look for the letters, but couldn't immediately confirm whether they received any emails or faxes from people through the "Stop Meth, Not Meds" lobbying campaign.

The website includes a commentary written by Republican operative Rob Cornelius, who opposes requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association is leading similar letter-writing campaigns in nine other states where lawmakers are considering prescription requirements. In 2011 and 2012, the group successfully lobbied against bills that would have made pseudoephedrine prescription-only in West Virginia

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 

 


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