A new controversy in the state emerges over whether Sudafed should be a prescription drug
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A new controversy in the state emerges over whether Sudafed should be a prescription drug

Date: December 2, 2010
By: Audrey Moon
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The governor's call to require a doctor's prescription for certain forms of cold medication is running into opposition in Missouri's statehouse.

On Tuesday, Governor Nixon, along with Attorney General Chris Koster, announced a proposal to make cold medicines and decongestants, such as Sudafed and Claritin-D, available only through a doctor's prescription. 

A major ingredient in cold medicines, pseudoephedrine, is used in a highly addictive drug, methamphetamine.

The governor and attorney general said their plan would decrease methamphetamine production in the state.   If legislation passes, Missouri will be the third state to take cold medication off the shelves, followed by Mississippi and Oregon.

"This deadly drug cannot be allowed to fester in Missouri," Nixon was quoted in a press release as saying. "We have already enacted several measures to fight meth, but it's time to take this significant next step."

For nearly a decade Missouri has led the nation in meth production.

In 2005, the year before Oregon implemented the law, 192 meth labs were seized. Last year, only 13.  In Missouri, Jefferson County officials raided 259.  

A detective in Jefferson County, who works in the narcotics unit, said stricter laws would be a good thing for the state. 

"It seems like a small price to pay to have a safer community," said Detective Charles Wymore. 

Wymore said if cold medicines became prescription only drugs, officials would be able to concentrate on other problems. He said if the proposal is passed, people can expect the number of meth labs to significantly decrease.

State representative and Senator elect, Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, disagrees.  Schaaf, a practicing physician, said that users will easily go to other states to get the cold medicines.  He said the cost outweighs any benefit to pulling them off the shelves. 

"There are no benefits," said Schaaf.

Schaaf argued if the medications are taken off the shelf, it could seriously effect Missouri's health industry.  Sick people would have to take off work, pay for a doctor's visit, and pay even more if these drugs become available only by prescription.

Schaaf said there have been arguments that there are substitutes to drugs like Sudafed that work just as well, but he says there aren't.

"As a physician, I can tell you that this is not the case.  That is my opinion being a physician in practice for many years."

Schaaf also said as long as he is in the legislature, he would fight this "tooth and nail."

 The likelihood that this law will pass, though, is low, said Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County.

"We have had extensive hearings in committee on that proposal over the last two years," said Cunningham.  "It has never gotten close to passing the committee largely because the medical community feels like it is just really going to upset their applecart to have to write prescriptions for cold medications." 

The governor's proposal also ran into opposition from the man House Republicans have chosen to be their chamber's speaker next year.

"What you're doing is that you're taking law-abiding citizens who can now get over-the-counter medicine for five bucks and now you're forcing them to a 70 doctor visit," said Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.

"I'm certainly not opposed to give it an opportunity, but if this year is anything like last year it is going to fail, and probably going to fail miserably."

In the last legislative session earlier this year, the governor's idea was rejected 22-134 in the House.  The year before, it was rejected by the Senate.