Tennessee lawmakers have introduced legislation calling for the state to adopt an electronic tracking system to monitor purchases of over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

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Tennessee considers e-tracking of pseudoephedrine sales

February 7th, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee lawmakers have introduced legislation calling for the state to adopt an electronic tracking system to monitor purchases of over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

The Tennessee General Assembly late last week said the bills from state Sen. Mae Beavers (S.B. 325) and state Rep. Debra Maggart (H.B. 234) request that Tennessee implement the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to track purchases of OTC cold and allergy medications with pseudoephedrine. The legislature said the two Republicans' legislation provides a less-intrusive solution to a bill introduced the previous week that would require consumers to get a prescription to buy medications with pseudoephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine is the key ingredient in methamphetamine, an escalating drug abuse problem nationwide that has drawn increased attention from federal, state and local lawmakers and law enforcement authorities trying to crack down on meth production.

"This kind of government intrusion in our lives is not the solution we need to attack the meth problem in Tennessee," Beavers, the bill's sponsor in the Tennessee Senate, said in a statement. "We should not punish the tens of thousands of innocent Tennesseans who need this over-the-counter medication to get at the criminals who are using the drug illegally to produce meth when there is another approach which is very effective. Our legislation offers a proven, effective, nongovernmental solution to the problem, without pushing up the cost of the medication on consumers by requiring them to visit a physician to obtain a prescription."

According to the Tennessee legislature, the state currently has no mechanism to block illegal sales of medicines with pseudoephedrine in real time, since many pharmacies and retailers use handwritten paper logbooks to track purchases, which criminals have learned to circumvent. The new legislation would provide a secure, interconnected electronic logbook that enables pharmacists and retailers to refuse an illegal sale based on purchases made elsewhere in the state or beyond its borders, while preserving ready access to necessary medications for consumers.

"For all law-abiding Tennesseans, the experience of buying cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine at the local pharmacy will not change," stated Maggart, the bill's sponsor in the state House of Representatives. "However, for those looking to purchase more than their legal limit, this system will immediately deny the sale, and law enforcement will possess a powerful tool to track down these individuals when they attempt to do so."

In the four states that have deployed e-tracking technology, about 40,000 grams of illegal pseudoephedrine sales per month are blocked, the Tennessee legislature reported. Also, the system helps law enforcement locate meth labs because it provides local authorities with precise data on who is attempting to buy illegal amounts of pseudoephedrine.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) said last week that it "strongly supports" the bills sponsored by Beavers and Maggart. The legislation also is supported by the Tennessee Pharmacists Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

"NPLEx is effective because it prevents the illegal sale of pseudoephedrine from ever happening in the first place," Carlos Gutierrez, a CHPA state government relations consultant, said in a statement. "Electronic blocking technology gives law enforcement the ability to identify meth cooks, not only in Tennessee, but across state lines and in real time."

If passed into law, the bills sponsored by Beavers and Maggart would make Tennessee the 13th state to pass legislation requiring a statewide e-tracking system for sales of medicines with pseudoephedrine. The NPLEx system would be fully integrated into Tennessee pharmacy systems by Jan. 1, 2012.

The state legislature said leading manufacturers of OTC medicines with pseudoephedrine, represented by CHPA, are working closely with state legislators and law enforcement to help implement NPLEx technology to pharmacies and retailers in Tennessee free of charge.

Consumers have increasingly spoken out against measures that would make OTC cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine available only with a prescription. In late January, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America released the results of a survey finding that seven in 10 asthma, allergy, cold, cough and flu sufferers oppose laws that would require such medicines to require a prescription. The Harris Interactive online poll was supported by a grant from CHPA.

Retail pharmacy groups, including the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, also have urged federal and state lawmakers against supporting efforts that would make patients get prescriptions for medicines with pseudoephedrine. Both NACDS and NCPA have cited an e-tracking system as a potential solution.

NPLEx and its MethCheck service, developed by technology provider Appriss Inc., is administered by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI), and the manufacturers of the medicines sponsor the e-tracking service and pay for its entire cost.

According to the NPLEx web site, more than 20,000 U.S. retailers currently use the service, including all CVS, Rite Aid and Supervalu stores. Kentucky was the first state to use MethCheck, Illinois and Louisiana are completing agreements to be a part of the system, seven other states have passed laws enabling the NPLEx network in their state, and several more states are considering the initiative, the site reported. MethCheck has pilots in Florida, Iowa, Virginia, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio and South Carolina.

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