JEFFERSON CITY — Time is running short for legislation that would require people to get prescriptions for medication containing pseudoephedrine — a mandate touted by some law officers and elected officials as an essential step if Missouri is to crack down on methamphetamine.
Pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold and allergy medications, also can be used to make meth, a highly addictive drug. Missouri for years has ranked among the nation's top states in meth lab busts, even as it has gradually strengthened laws limiting access to pseudoephedrine.
The House Rules Committee endorsed a bill Friday that would require a doctor's prescription for pseudoephedrine. The bill could be brought up for debate by the House as soon as next week, but with the end of the legislative session just three weeks away, House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has said House bills still awaiting debate face little chance of becoming law this year.
If the bill does come to a House vote, lawmakers will have to choose between curbing meth production and allowing consumers easy access to familiar remedies.
Earlier this year, the national Consumer Healthcare Products Association ran radio ads in Missouri urging lawmakers to "keep government out of your medicine cabinet." A spokeswoman reiterated the group's position in an e-mail Friday.
But sponsoring Rep. Dave Schatz, a Sullivan Republican, said having doctors act as gatekeepers to pseudoephedrine could limit the supply for meth makers.
"That's why we have a meth problem in the Midwest, in Missouri, because it's so accessible," Schatz said.
Both Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster have supported efforts to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, and the bill has dozens of co-sponsors that include both Republicans and Democrats in the House.
The legislation has drawn opposition from patient groups such as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's St. Louis chapter.
Joy Krieger, the group's executive director, said many people rely on medicines containing pseudoephedrine to stay healthy. She said a prescription requirement would not only inconvenience people, but could make medications more expensive or force people to seek emergency room treatment if they lack insurance.
"It's not our fault we live between two rivers and in a place with many types of flora," she said. "We don't believe the people of St. Louis should have their rights taken away so police can deter criminals."
Missouri already requires pseudoephedrine-based medicines to be kept behind pharmacy counters, limits the amount that people can purchase and requires photo identification to make a purchase. This year, the state implemented a real-time tracking system to prevent people from buying large quantities at different stores.
Krieger said the state should see whether the tracking system curbs the number of the meth incidents before considering additional restrictions.
Schatz acknowledged that the prescription requirement would make it more difficult to get some medicines, but he said that may be a worthy hurdle considering what the state spends raiding meth labs, disposing of drug-making chemicals and incarcerating people who make the drug.
"If we can stop people from getting involved with meth and hooked on meth, those could be big benefits," he said.
If the bill does not come up for debate before the session ends, Schatz or another lawmaker could sponsor similar legislation next year.
But it would have to start at the beginning of the legislative process, repeating the committee hearings that the measure has gone through in the two months since it was filed. Similar bills in 2009 and 2010 died in legislative committees.