- Published on Thursday, 08 March 2012 08:57
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma pharmacists generally support a bill designed to restrict sales of medicines containing a key ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, even though it could place them in dangerous situations.
The legislation awaiting debate in the House requires pharmacists to determine the "legitimate medical and pharmaceutical" need of a customer trying to buy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which is found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. Oklahoma Pharmacists Association Executive Director Phil Woodward said there is always concern that a desperate meth cook or addict could attack if turned down.
"It kind of puts us on the line again," Woodward said.
Nonetheless, he said pharmacists have been making judgment calls on medicines that can be abused for decades, such as selling cough medicine that contains codeine. Pharmacies can choose whether to make the sale, and some will not sell medicine containing codeine without a prescription.
"We've been doing that for 40 years," Woodward said.
The pseudoephedrine bill, which follows two failed bills calling for such pharmaceuticals to become prescription only, was sent March 1 to the full House on a 15-0 vote by the House Public Safety Committee. It does not yet appear on the House calendar for a possible vote.
The legislation also exempts pharmacists from lawsuits if they refuse to sell the medication and allows for a pharmacist to sell the medicine to a customer who poses a threat, Woodward said.
"Obviously the pharmacist makes the decision, but you have other people in the store. You have technicians and clerks who could be in danger," he said.
Pharmacist Lee Gile, co-owner of Hospital Discount Pharmacy in Edmond, said she thinks the idea is good, but she acknowledged the potential risk.
"I think it kind of puts a pharmacist in a dangerous situation. I mean, you're saying no to people who don't want to be told no," Gile said. "A pharmacist should be able to tell if a customer needs pseudoephedrine."
The pharmacy association had opposed the bills that would require prescriptions to obtain the medications.
"Obviously we support a nonprescription scenario where a legitimate customer can obtain the medication without having to go to a doctor for a prescription," Woodward said.
Law enforcement and prosecutors also are behind the bill.
"Anything the Legislature can do to limit these drugs getting into the wrong hands for the wrong purposes, we applaud," said Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon.
Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward said the agency got behind the bill after learning that a similar law in Arkansas had resulted in successfully reducing the number of meth labs.
"The good thing is we have gotten some proven track record with it," said Woodward, who is a nephew of the pharmacy association director.
"Meth labs are down in Arkansas, and the pharmacists don't see it clogging their businesses," he said. "These people don't want a consultation, they don't want to visit with a pharmacist. They (pharmacists) can tell who has a true allergy and who has a meth problem."