Meth problem or no meth problem, Missouri State Senator Rob Schaaf thinks you deserve the right to take your Sudafed -- without seeing a doctor first.
checked in yesterday with Schaaf, a part-time family physician/ state senator representing northwest Missouri. We'd heard the Republican was vowing to filibuster the Meth Lab Elimination Act, or H.B.658
, should it make it out of the Missouri House and into the Senate. But with pressure from law-enforcement groups and anti-drug advocates to pass it, thereby making all cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine available only to those with a prescription, we were curious to learn if Schaaf was really that vehement.
To which we can now answer, emphatically: yes.
"Sudafed is a good drug," he tells us. "It's safe. And it's the only drug as effective in treating cold symptoms. To make all of us give up our freedom to take it, to prevent other people from breaking the law -- it isn't a good idea."
Reiterating his vow to filibuster, Schaaf added, "I will stand up there and talk until this bill dies -- or until my legs give out."
In Missouri's previous efforts to deal with the meth scourge, the state moved pseudoephedrine-based products behind the pharmacy counter. Customers must sign a log when they make a purchase; that log is linked into a database
that bars customers from purchasing more than the legal daily limit.
"They already have a system to track pseudoephedrine," he says. "And even the proponents of this bill admit that if you make it prescription-only, people will still be able to get pseudoephedrine and make meth. It won't stop meth production." After all, Schaaf notes drily, oxycontin has long been prescription-only: "There's still a problem with many prescription drugs being abused."
Instead, he says, a prescription-only law would punish families suffering from colds or the flu. Indeed, as Schaaf notes, by making Sudafed and other pseudoephedrine-based products "a controlled substance" under the law, that moves them into a class of drug where many physicians would be reluctant to prescribe them over the phone for sick patients. (Penicillin, for example, is not a controlled substance, so even though customers need a prescription to get it, their family doctor is usually willing to call in the 'scrip without an office visit. Not so with how the proposed law would treat pseudoephedrine.)
"You can get away with calling in a controlled substance from time to time," Schaaf says, "but the state board takes a dim view of physicians not seeing people who get a prescription for controlled substances." During flu season, he predicts, doctors' offices would be packed with sick people, waiting to see an MD just to get their hands on medication that is now widely available.
"Insurance premiums will go up," he predicts. "It will cost the state. Do you think doctors are going to call in prescriptions for Medicare patients without seeing them first?"
Advocates of the prescription-only plan have pointed to the availability of products containing phenylephrine, marketed as Sudafed PE or Tylenol PE. But as we previously reported, studies have shown that phenylephrine products are no more effective than a placebo
-- something Schaaf won't argue with. "Ask a person with allergies," he says. "PE is not as good."
Yesterday, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and its St. Louis chapter issued a statement urging states like Missouri to reject the legislation. Mandating a prescription, the foundation said, "will make it difficult, expensive, and inconvenient to get decongestant medications that contain pseudoephedrine. Instead, we ask that you give the state-wide electronic tracking system a chance to work."
So far, Oregon and Mississippi have passed laws making Sudafed-type products available only with prescriptions. We asked Schaaf whether, in his opinion, the laws were working there.
He said he didn't care. "This isn't about that," he said. "This is about our freedom to buy a product that's very safe. By the way, they still sell bullets. If I want to buy a bullet to target shoot, well, some person might use that to commit murder. You can buy knives. And while you might safely use them in your kitchen to cut meat, someone else could use them to stab people. Well, do you need a special prescription to buy a knife?"
Counterpoint: Wildwood Becomes Latest Missouri City to Ban Over-the-Counter Sales of Pseudoephedrine