WASHINGTON -- Existing state legislation to address illegal production of methamphetamine could have troublesome effects for supermarket pharmacies if used as the model for a national standard, according to industry sources.
Representatives from Food Marketing Institute, Washington; National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Alexandria, Va.; and Consumer Healthcare Products Association, also in Washington, testified Nov. 18 before the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. The hearing was convened to discuss possible government measures to address production of methamphetamine, including an Oklahoma law implemented in April that other states and the federal government are examining.
The Oklahoma law gave cough and cold products containing pseudoephedrine (a key ingredient in the production of meth) Schedule V status, which means only pharmacists can dispense them. Oregon passed a similar law this month, and other states have considered it as an example for writing their own legislation.
Overpurchase and theft of products containing pseudoephedrine have become increasingly problematic for many retailers, particularly those in Midwestern states like Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri.
"As the meth problem has spread across the country from the West toward the East, you have states individually trying to deal with it by passing their own laws," John Motley, senior vice president of government affairs for FMI, said in regards to the association's testimony.
Those laws differ from state to state, and can create problems for multi-state operators. FMI has been working with legislators and others to establish national standards to address the issue, he said.
In response to efforts to advance the Oklahoma law as the model to follow, speakers at the hearing cited concerns about the effects restrictive legislation would have on retailers and consumers.
"For our industry, a Schedule V approach is very troublesome. That's because an overwhelming majority of grocery stores in the United States do not have a pharmacy department. For example, my company currently operates approximately 120 supermarkets in Indiana and Ohio, but only 46 of them have a pharmacy department," said Joseph Heerens, senior vice president of government affairs at Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, who testified on behalf of FMI.
"It's going to channel more business to either chain pharmacies or to supermarkets that have pharmacies. We don't have any solid, evidential proof that it is effective," Motley said after the hearing.
"We are concerned about the effect that classifying pseudoephedrine as a Schedule V controlled substance would have on the practice of pharmacy and the services we provide," said Mary Ann Wagner, NACDS' vice president of regulatory affairs, in her testimony. After the hearing, Wagner told SN some of the association's membership in Oklahoma had been reporting negative effects from the implementation of the Schedule V-based law there.
"Before we embrace a single-step approach that ignores the totality of this substance abuse problem and restricts access by consumers who need these medications, we need to make sure it is a truly effective solution. We believe it is not," said Linda Suydam, president, CHPA, in her testimony.
To date, many retailers have implemented voluntary standards and policies to address the theft and overpurchase they face in some markets. Retailers, including Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart Stores, Dahl's, Schnucks, Dominick's, Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, CVS Pharmacy and Target, have taken measures like imposing purchase limits or moving products behind the pharmacy counter. Hy-Vee went as far as requiring a signature with purchase.
Heerens said among other initiatives FMI supports: eliminating the exemption of blister pack products from regulations; a national uniform sales limit of six grams; greater regulatory authority, controls, tracking and quota limits for the import and sale of bulk chemicals of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine; a ban on Internet sales of precursor chemicals; and greater federal regulatory authority, including licensing and inspection at the distributor level, especially at secondary wholesalers. NACDS and CHPA support some form of registration for non-pharmacy retailers that sell pseudoephedrine products, among other recommendations.
With the year almost over, it is unlikely any moves will be made toward establishing a national standard, sources said. However, with state government sessions convening in early 2005, getting the message out there now as a counterpoint to those calling for stricter laws is important, Motley said.