CHARLESTON - A bill aimed at decreasing the production of methamphetamine by making Sudafed-like drugs available only by prescription was overwhelmingly passed Tuesday by the West Virginia Senate.
The bill allows an exemption for certain drugs containing pseudoephedrine that cannot easily be converted to meth to still be sold over the counter. Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said a similar bill was voted down in the Senate two years ago.
"But two things have changed that impact this discussion. There is a wide availability of similar conversion-resistant drugs on the market. And meth has become such a scourge in our society, such a problem, that it reaches every corner of our state," he said. Palumbo noted that the number of meth lab busts in West Virginia has increased from 229 in 2011 to 533 in 2013.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he was open to signing such a measure.
"We'll take a close look at the end product," he said.
Only Oregon and Mississippi currently have similar laws making pseudoephedrine prescription-only.
The bill makes it a crime to possess pseudoephedrine without a prescription, but an amendment approved by the Senate allows people to have charges dropped if they bought the drugs legally in another state. However, someone could do so only once, Palumbo said.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, who expressed concern over law-abiding visitors and college students from other states being charged with a misdemeanor, said he still feels uneasy that people would have to appear before a judge to have the charges dropped.
"This is a step in the right direction, but a step that misses the mark to truly protect the people we described yesterday. Someone still has to be charged and go to court," he said.
Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, also spoke out against the bill. He said putting the state's meth problem in the hands of the medical community won't solve it. With prescription pills the state's No. 1 drug problem, the bill may just move pseudoephedrine purchases underground, he said.
The bill will now be sent to the House for action.
Tim Miley, speaker of the House of Delegates, said things have changed since the House first voted on the bill a few years ago. He indicated the bill would affect law enforcement's use of the NPLEX system. The system, new this year, is a tool that allows police to track Sudafed purchases and has been used to identify meth makers.
"I can't tell you whether it's likely the House will pass it," added Miley.
"We'll have to wait and see and hear from some presenters."