By Ryanne Wise
In the search to find a solution to Indiana's growing meth problem, a committee heard two hours of testimony on a bill that would make medicine containing pseudoephedrine a schedule III drug.
The committee did not vote.
A schedule III drug status would force consumers to obtain a prescription to get the medications, which are currently monitored through an electronic logging system called NPLEX.
Recently released statistics show police in Indiana discovered 1,808 labs, more than in any other state. The surge was part of a seven-year trend of increased production of meth. The last decrease came in 2006 when Congress enacted the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which first put pseudoephedrine products behind pharmacy counters instead of on the shelves.
The bill's author, Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, told the Judiciary Committee members that the statistics still don't accurately portray the meth problem in the state.
"1,808 really isn't a very fair number because of how those have to be reported. The federal government requires five pages for every lab found. Every bottle is a lab," Smaltz said. "So instead of taking that and doing the paperwork, which is just cost prohibitive, they have what they call lab kits."
These lab kits can actually contain 10 plus labs, but will only be recorded as one meth lab.
David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said it's not just those numbers that should be considered.
"We know that on average, (cleanup costs) $2,500 per lab, depending on the size of the lab," Powell said. "If you take an average of 3,000 times the 1,808 labs from last year, that's $5.4 million that Indiana spent cleaning up labs."
Indiana State Police 1st Sgt. Niki Crawford said it's time for people outside of law enforcement to help take a stand against the growing epidemic.
"I think everybody will tell you that we can't arrest our way out of this problem," Crawford said. "I think it's all of us working together. I think it's getting out there and educating youth, as well as parents, as well as community groups so that they recognize and understand what's going on in their community."
Crawford also addressed the growing concern about those who need allergy medicine to function day-to-day and don't want to go to the doctor for prescriptions.
"There are 135 products that are cold and allergy medicines that don't contain pseudoephedrine. There's about 15 that do," Crawford said.
Two Terre Haute police officers also testified in support of the bill. Sgt. Chris Gallagher told the committee about fellow officer Brent Long who died in 2011 in a meth related shootout with a suspect. Officer Ryan Adamson relayed the story of how he was forced to kill a man in self-defense when the man tried to stab him and his police dog. The man was said to be under the influence of meth.
Those testifying in opposition of the bill said the events are unfortunate and the minority - and should not be the deciding factor for the majority.
"We believe that this will put undue burden on law-abiding citizens, insured and uninsured Hoosiers, to have to seek medical attention for common cold and allergy issues," said Tony Gillespie of the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.
Bill Keown, a lobbyist for the Indiana Pharmacist Alliance, said a schedule III drug status is too big a hurdle for both doctors and patients.
"Schedule III drugs are required by the Food and Drug Administration to be treated differently than any other drug," Cowan said. "They have to be stored differently, they are ordered differently, the recording about them is different. Physicians do not like to call in prescriptions for these substances."
Justin Swanson, a lobbyist from the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said he would prefer the statewide restrictions - but said some restriction is better than none.
"I'm asking one, for states to require prescription and if not, to allow the locals to do it," Swanson said. "I think most people on this committee agree that people closest to the problems have the best solutions for them."
The committee's chairman, Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, held the vote until further discussion. If the bill doesn't pass this week, it will die in committee.
Ryanne Wise is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.