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May 29, 2015

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Lawmakers hear debate on access to key ingredient used in meth

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CARSON CITY – Methamphetamine is being produced by using a key ingredient in cold medicines and new controls should be imposed on the sale of those medicines, law enforcement officials said Monday.

They appeared before the Senate Committee of Health and Welfare to urge passage of a bill to require a doctor’s prescription for drugs that contains pseudoephedrine.

District Attorney Neil Rombardo of Carson City called this “the biggest health safety issue” facing the Legislature. He said it's a battle between public safety and company profits.

But Chris Ferrari, representing the Consumer Health Care Product Association, told the committee that setting up an electronic monitoring system at pharmacies was a better way to control the sale of such medicines.

Ferrari and Kevin Kraushaar, both with the association that contains drug manufacturers, said the electronic system protects consumer access without going to a doctor. Kraushaar said 16 million purchases were made nationwide last year of medications containing pseudoephedrine.

Each speaker on Monday agreed that meth was a major problem both in and outside of Nevada. Pseudoephedrine is a major ingredient in the drug.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, said the issue was whether to require prescriptions or to use the electronic tracking system, called National Precursor Log Exchange.

A packed auditorium heard more than three hours of testimony and the committee will decide later what to do.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, the sponsor of Senate Bill 203 to make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug, said meth was the biggest social problem of the time. Rombardo said 12 percent of high school students in Nevada admit to using meth compared to the national average of 4 percent.

Pseudoephedrine is now sold behind the counter of pharmacies but an individual doesn’t have to have a prescription.

Law enforcement officers said small groups buy a large quantity of these cold medicines and then sell it on the black market to those making meth.

Rombardo held up one example of a cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine that can be purchased for $6.75 and then sold to drug makers for $50.

Kraushaar said the electronic system was an “effective tool” to prevent an individual from going from store to store to buy the cold medicine. It registers into the system so all pharmacies and law enforcement are notified of a sale and it stops the individual from shopping around.

But Rombardo and others said many of these individuals use fake identification cards.

Kraushaar said the electronic system would be free to the state and law enforcement, and his organization's members would pay for it.

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