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Cold pills? You’ll need a prescription in Harriman

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By Cindy Simpson

Customers shopping for pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products in Harriman now need a prescription.
Harriman City Council approved second and final reading of an ordinance making the restrictions earlier this month, and Harriman Police Chief Randy Heidle said he talked to area pharmacists and doctors about it after first reading.
“There wasn’t any opposition to it,” Heidle said. “Everybody I talked to ... they are welcoming it.”
Harriman Mayor Chris Mason has advocated for it, saying previously it was a local effort to curb methamphetamine manufacture and address an issue state and federal governments refused to.
“I just want to thank you all for the consideration of the ordinance on the agenda this evening, and to thank the chief for all the work the department continues to do,” said Sarah McCoin, a member of the Roane County Anti-Drug Coalition.
“It’s a coordinated effort, and we are trying so hard to make such a difference in our community, to make our fire department and police department safe when they go out on these crazy calls,” McCoin said.
Officials say the law allows for pharmacists to write prescriptions for over-the-counter products that are not scheduled.
That in itself was a major concern for many people who rely on medications containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine for allergy and sinus relief.
Jim Derry, information system manager for Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force, spoke  up in favor of the ordinance at last week’s meeting.
He pointed to Oregon in particular as a state that has seen decline in meth lab seizures since passing legislation to make pseudoephedrine prescription only.
He said in Mississippi there has been a 85 percent decrease in children taken into protective custody because of meth labs.
In Tennessee, Derry said, “we have 400 children a year in DCS custody” because of meth.
He provided statistics showing sales trends of 3.6-gram pseudoephedrine boxes and meth lab seizures mirror each other and are on the decline.
The report said that it isn’t certain yet, but one reason for the decline may be because several communities and counties have opted for prescription-only legislation.
Meigs County, he said, had a small pharmacy that had one of the highest sales of 3.6-gram boxes prior to passing the legislation.
Derry said many pharmacists would get a call in prescription from the patient’s doctor, and that would enable the doctor to give input into whether it was an appropriate medicine for the patient when a patient might not necessarily share health information with the pharmacist.
Derry referred to the pharmacist at Kingston’s Baggett Pharmacy. That particular pharmacist, Derry said, decided in 2005 it wasn’t worth it to sell the medication without a prescription.
The issue is a hot topic, with many advocating for prescription-only as an effort to cut down meth labs while others claim it will not successfully deal with the methamphetamine problem.
The University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service has issued an opinion that local ordinances such as Harriman’s may not be valid.
Many people have questioned the legality of the ordinances, saying the cities and counties have no authority to enforce such laws.
While statisticians argue whether it curbs meth, Derry said it cuts down on actual labs, which is the main point of the legislation.
“This doesn’t get rid of a meth addict. It gets rid of a meth lab. That is exactly the point of prescription-only legislation-to keep people from living in a meth lab,” Derry said.
Roane County resident Summer Hammock grew concerned when she heard about an ordinance Kingston was considering similar to the one Harriman passed.
Kingston officials have tabled the measure for now.
“I honestly think the legislation is a joke, and it would be a waste of time,” Hammock said.
She believes it will only result in law-abiding residents struggling to get the medication they need for allergies and other ailments while criminals will continue to find a way to get the medication.
She compares it to Chicago’s stringent gun control and rampant crime.
“Banning it doesn’t take it away from the criminals,” Hammock said.
“If they want it, they are going to find a way to obtain it. You can buy Sudafed off of Amazon.com. They can still live within the Kingston city limits and order it from the Internet. There is way too many holes in the system,” Hammock said.
Prescription pill abuse is an example she uses particularly relevant for the South. While the medication may be prescription only, people still obtain and abuse it.
She said the best way to combat the drug production is investment in law enforcement.
“That is the best way to stop meth in the county: stop the meth traffic from coming in,” Hammock said.
Hammock believes the NPLEx-point-of-sale computer system used to track pseudoephedrine purchases has proven to be successful as it curtails how many products the consumer purchases.
Representatives of the Consumer Healthcare Product Association, a member-based trade association,  said it would be an economic burden on individuals with prescription and doctor costs as well for local employers whose workers take time off for doctors visits or get sick because of lack of access to the medication.
In information provided by Terry Quillen, a Tennessee representative of the Consumer Healthcare Product Association, additional strains to health care include increased cost of health coverage, which may prompt some insurers to pass the cost to patients or not cover pseudoephedrine prescriptions; worsening of flood of patients expected from the Affordable Care Act; increase in unnecessary visits to the emergency room and primary care physicians; and hit those without health insurance who get sicker because they cannot afford the prescription or a doctor’s visit.