Tomblin's Drug Bill Approved

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's wide-ranging substance abuse bill will go to the House of Delegates without a hotly debated provision designed to crack down on methamphetamine labs in West Virginia.

On Wednesday, state senators voted 34-0 to approve Tomblin's anti-drug bill (SB 437). The legislation did not include a requirement that pseudoephedrine, a cold and allergy medication that's also a key meth-making ingredient, become prescription-only.

State Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, called Tomblin's substance abuse bill a "missed opportunity."

"This is a good bill ... but it could have been so much better," Foster said during a floor speech Wednesday.

In recent weeks, Foster repeatedly championed the pseudoephedrine prescription requirement as the bill came up during Senate committee meetings.

Foster's Senate colleagues from Kanawha County supported the proposal, but health-care and retail industry lobbyists worked aggressively behind the scenes to persuade a majority of senators to reject Foster's legislative amendments to make pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

The number of meth labs in West Virginia has steadily increased since 2008. Meth lab seizures are on a record pace this year, according to the West Virginia State Police. Authorities have found meth labs in 37 of West Virginia's 55 counties since 2010.

"This is spreading across the state, this scourge," said Foster, a doctor at CAMC.

In recent years, meth-lab production has plunged in two states -- Mississippi and Oregon -- that have pseudoephedrine prescription laws, Foster said.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association and other industry groups have said that a pseudoephedrine prescription mandate would burden consumers and drive up health care costs.

That hasn't happened in Oregon and Mississippi, Foster told his Senate colleagues Wednesday.

"The public outcry that had been anticipated did not occur," Foster said.

Tomblin's bill includes a requirement that West Virginia pharmacies use a pseudoephedrine tracking system called NPLEx. The system is designed to stop sales of the decongestant to people who plan to use the medication illegally. The pharmaceutical industry will pay for the database.

Tomblin's bill would limit pseudoephedrine purchases to 7.5 grams per month -- down from the current 9-gram limit.