AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would require sales of cold and allergy medications to be tracked electronically because the drugs are often used to make methamphetamine was passed unanimously this week by the Legislature’s health committee.
“Methamphetamine abuse is a major problem in Maine and has ruined a lot of lives,” said State Rep. Alexander Willette, R-Mapleton, the bill’s sponsor. “Anything we can do to curb the supply of ingredients is a positive step. A major goal of this bill is to prevent someone from buying a supply of precursor material at one drug store and then buying more at other locations.”
The legislation, which has bipartisan support, now goes to the House and Senate for consideration.
“We are giving law enforcement one more tool to crack down on illegal drug use and production,” said Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, the lead House Democrat on the Health and Human Service Committee. “We must do everything we can to combat these designer drugs that threaten our communities.”
Under Willette’s bill, sale of legal products that contain ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine — typically found in over-the-counter cold and nasal decongestant medicines — would be tracked.
Even though these products do not require a prescription, they already are stored behind pharmacy counters under the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005.
Still, that hasn’t entirely solved the problem.
Some retailers already maintain written logs of this data, but the new law, if enacted, would mandate that the information be maintained electronically. The bill has support of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, which would oversee the electronic tracking system.
“We supported this bill due to concern about methamphetamine,” MDEA Director Roy McKinney said in a statement. “Anything that reduces the diversion of pseudoephedrine to illegal uses is a positive. Drugs containing these ingredients are behind the counter now, but the sales are recorded manually. There is nothing to stop someone from buying the maximum amount at one store and doing the same thing at multiple stores. That’s why the electronic logging is so important.”
The new system must be in compliance with the National Information Exchange Model and the Criminal Justice Information Exchange to communicate across state lines. By Aug. 1, 2012, the MDEA must notify retailers about which system has been chosen, and those retailers would go “live” by Jan. 1, 2013.
According to the bill, the electronic logging system “must be free of charge to the state, its taxpayers, retailers and law enforcement.” Costs would be borne by companies that produce medicines containing the methamphetamine ingredients.
Willette’s bill also would bring Maine laws in line with a federal law that limits sale of those items to a single customer to 3.6 grams per day or 9 grams per 30 days. It also would require a purchaser to present a government-issued photo identification and require the retailer to record the name and address of the customer as well as the name and quantity of the item purchased.
“For law-abiding citizens who want to buy these medications, this changes nothing,” Willette said.