Gov. Ted Kulongoski today signed legislation that will make Oregon the first state to require prescriptions for cold and allergy medications that can be converted into methamphetamine.

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PORTLAND — Gov. Ted Kulongoski today signed legislation that will make Oregon the first state to require prescriptions for cold and allergy medications that can be converted into methamphetamine.


The requirement applies to any medication containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth, the highly addictive street drug.


“This is a tremendous start but we must recognize that it is just that, a start,” the governor said. “We have a long way to go.”


Kulongoski said he was aware of inconveniences that might arise from having to get prescriptions for commonly purchased remedies but said pharmaceutical companies already are producing replacement remedies that don’t contain pseudoephedrine.


He held up a list of 40 such products.


If the federal government passed a law similar to Oregon’s, he said, it would further encourage pharmaceutical companies to drop the use of pseudoephedrine.


The governor also signed a bill increasing the penalty for drug crimes involving children and bills for funding drug courts, for related corrections expenses and other costs.


The prescription bill sailed though both houses of the Legislature, opposed by only a handful of lawmakers who said it would be an inconvenience to their constituents to need prescriptions for such common medicines as Sudafed and Claritin D.


The state Board of Pharmacy has until next July to implement the new prescription requirement but board executive director Gary Schnabel said it could be in place within three months.


Patients will be allowed up to five refills in a six-month period, Schnabel said.


Tom Holt, executive director of the Oregon State Pharmacy Association, said he thinks the law will drive the pseudoephedrine-containing cold and allergy pills out of the market within a year or two.


Oregon and several other states already require consumers to show identification and sign a log when obtaining these cold and allergy medicines from pharmacies, and Congress is moving toward similar restrictions.


Sen. Ginny Burdick, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that regulations moving the medicines behind the counter don’t work.


She said that as an experiment four legislators in Salem were able to buy enough cold medication in a few hours to make up 200 hits of meth.


The real victims of the new legislation, she said, are home meth cooks “and that’s the way it should be.”


While increasing amounts of methamphetamine are coming in from Mexico, bill supporters say it could sharply reduce the number of home meth labs where the chemicals used in the process can pose severe health problems.


Kulongoski estimated that between 20 percent and 25 percent of the meth sold in Oregon comes from such home labs.


He said once home meth labs are under control in Oregon, police and others could concentrate on stopping the drug from coming in from elsewhere.