NASHVILLE - Two thirds of Tennesseans say in a new survey they back requiring a doctor's prescription to obtain pseudoephedrine-based products like Sudafed if that will combat production of illegal methamphetamine.
The Vanderbilt University poll of 860 registered voters, released Wednesday, found 65 percent of respondents support requiring a prescription to obtain pseudoephedrine products. Drug makers and users take the precursor drug to "cook" and make meth, a practice that law enforcement officials say is at epidemic levels in Tennessee.
"Here's a rare example where there's no partisan differences," said John Geer, a Vanderbilt political science professor and co-director of the university's Study of Democratic Institutions that sponsored the poll. "Basically the public across the board. favors requiring people to get a doctor's prescription for these kinds of drugs."
Geer said the poll found broad support across the partisan spectrum, ranging from 70 percent among Democratic respondents to 64 percent among self-identified tea party adherents. That was surprising, he said.
The poll sounded out Tennesseans on a variety of issues and their views of top office holders. It was conducted Nov. 20 to Dec. 5, reaching people via landline telephones and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Law enforcement and drug manufacturers have battled in the state Legislature in recent years over requiring prescriptions.
A day before the poll's release, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper released an opinion that efforts by 18 Tennessee towns and cities to require a physician's prescription before obtaining pseudoephedrine products violated a 2011 registry and reporting law, which had backing from the manufacturers.
Winchester, Tenn., police Chief Dennis Young said Tuesday he plans to keep enforcing his city's ordinance requiring a doctor's prescription for pseudoephedrine-based cold medications despite the opinion until a court says no. He blamed drug manufacturers for thwarting previous legislative efforts to require prescriptions.
The Vanderbilt poll could hand critics a new argument. But Elizabeth Funderburk, a spokeswoman for drug manufacturers' Consumer Healthcare Products Association, questioned the poll's findings, saying the group's own surveys show consumers don't want barriers like prescriptions.
Proponents of tougher regulation say they plan to push a measure that would require a prescription from a physician or a pharmacist, providing more controls while maintaining access for legitimate users.
Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt survey found 6 in 10 Tennesseans back expanding Medicaid. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last spring declined to go along with the expansion of the program, which would help an estimated 181,000 low-income Tennesseans.
The governor says he's still trying to get Obama administration officials to go along with a special deal for Tennessee to help control costs.
Vanderbilt's poll found 63 percent of respondents favored the expansion, while 34 percent were against it.
At the same time, 47 percent of those polled said they dislike the Affordable Care Act, the law that authorizes the expansion of Medicaid, which is operated as TennCare here. Just 15 percent said they support the law.
In other poll findings:
• President Barack Obama's job approval rating has taken a hit in Tennessee with more Democrats joining Republicans in holding a negative opinion of the Democrat. His approval was 40 percent in Vanderbilt's poll last spring. Now, it's fallen to 28 percent.
• Republican Haslam's job approval rating is 61 percent, down seven points from a Vanderbilt poll in January and two points from Vanderbilt's poll in May.
• U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has seen his approval dip from 52 percent in May to 49 percent. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who handily won re-election last year, has a 52 percent job approval rating.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.