Pauley: Consumer advocate: More choices, not restrictions

Pauley: Consumer advocate: More choices, not restrictions

February 27th, 2014 By Tim Pauley in Opinion Columns

A number of Tennessee lawmakers have their sights on legislation that would restrict the amount of certain over-the-counter cold and allergy products consumers can buy without a doctor's prescription.

Their intentions couldn't be more pure: The purpose of these bills is to crack down on methamphetamine production and abuse, which are growing problems in our great state. And while I agree that something more must be done on this front, I reject the notion that we have to make life more difficult for law-abiding citizens.

Right now, two of the leading anti-meth proposals involve either requiring a doctor's prescription for all purchases of medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) or huge reductions in the amount of these products one can buy before consulting with a pharmacist or doctor.

I approach this issue from my perspective as a pharmacist. In my view, both proposals would unfairly penalize thousands of Tennessee families, particularly those who experience mild to severe allergy symptoms on a regular basis. Make no mistake, for certain constituencies, including chronic allergy patients and senior citizens, there is no real difference between a prescription requirement and severe purchasing restrictions. It's for that reason that groups like AARP Tennessee have opposed both the prescription requirement and the purchasing restriction proposals.

As a pharmacist, it's important for me to be able to guide my customers through a variety of treatment options. While PSE-based products are not the only alternatives available to address cold and allergy symptoms, they are certainly good ones. Many patients take these products because they prefer the long-term relief that can enable people to get through a long day on the job.

If major PSE purchasing restrictions were to become law, thousands of Tennesseans would have to bear the burden of additional trips to the doctor and pharmacy. To do so, some would have to take off from work, school or family obligations. Former Middle Tennessee State University economist Martin Kennedy recently estimated that the state would see 497,000 additional doctor's appointments annually under a prescription requirement--with a cost of more than $44 million.

It would be one thing if you could demonstrate that a prescription requirement or similar proposals would be worth the costs and burdens to consumers; but the fact of the matter is, there simply is no compelling evidence to support that contention.

In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite to be true. In Oregon and Mississippi, where prescription-only laws have been on the books for several years, meth-related crime rates remain a reality. Why is that the case? I'm not a narcotics expert, but it might have something to do with the fact that 80 percent of American meth is imported from drug cartels in Mexico and other foreign countries.

There's also the fact that America's biggest drug problem is not cocaine, marijuana or even meth--it's prescription drug abuse. Just because something--like a meth precursor--is harder to obtain, doesn't mean criminals won't find other ways to access it.

In writing this op-ed, my intention is not to disparage lawmakers in the General Assembly for taking on this laudable cause.

We must find solutions to the meth problem, but I don't think we have to hike medical costs and restrict over-the-counter treatment options for honest citizens in the process.

It's that simple.

Tim Pauley is a pharmacist and a member of the Tullahoma, Tenn., Board of Aldermen.