NASHVILLE-Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that, while he backs a new computer-tracking system for cold and sinus remedies with pseudoephedrine, the state eventually may have to require the drugs be made available by prescription only.
The Blountville Republican said if he had been asked just two months ago whether he would ever consider requiring that pseudoephedrine - the main ingredient in methamphetamine - be sold by prescription, "I probably would have said no."
"But," he told reporters, "I've also seen the real scourge that drug is on our society. So I'm getting closer and closer to agreeing that it does need to be prescription only."
Ramsey quickly added that he still thinks the computer-tracking bill sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, "is the best way to do this."
He said officials should let the tracking system work for a year or two and "see if that makes an appreciable difference to where we don't go back home and have to tell ... our law-abiding citizens they're being punished."
He said lawmakers also are considering making pseudoephedrine a Schedule 5 drug. That would require a pharmacist, rather than a doctor, to write prescriptions for medicines containing the drug.
Beavers' bill was delayed again in the full Senate on Thursday as lawmakers sought to solidify support.
The issue has pitted groups against each other.
The Tennessee Pharmacists Association and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association want a mandatory tracking system.
Law enforcement officials say meth problems are best dealt with by making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only medicine.
Drug manufacturers are offering a multistate tracking system to Tennessee for free. Under Beavers' bill, pharmacists would use the system, known as the National Precursor Log Exchange, to monitor over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines such as Claritin-D.
Movement slowed Thursday as Republicans privately debated a proposal to mesh the NPLEX tracking system with a law-enforcement monitoring system now used by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
"From our perspective, I think there's a great deal of confusion in terms of what currently exists and the NPLEX system we're talking about," said Tennessee Pharmacists Association Executive Director Baeteena M. Black.
Black and others met earlier Thursday with Gov. Bill Haslam's deputy, Claude Ramsey; Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons; and the administration's top lobbyist, Dale Kelley.
Black said it was decided in that meeting to have the NPLEX system's technical staff get together with the TBI's technical staff to discuss how to mesh the two systems.