Viewpoint: AARP credits Haslam, but opposes his bill
Feb 27, 2014 | 992 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam and others introduced legislation intended to reduce the methamphetamine problem in our state.

Under his proposal, consumers would be able to buy roughly half of the amount of pseudoephedrine-based medicines they are currently able to purchase under state law. Additionally, some products would no longer be available to our state’s cold and allergy sufferers. Any purchases beyond the proposed limits would require a prescription from either a pharmacist or a doctor.

On behalf of AARP Tennessee, I applaud Haslam and other Tennessee leaders for fighting back against our state’s meth problem. Tennessee has dealt with the devastating effects of meth abuse for far too long. At this point, there is no dispute that something needs to be done to make greater progress in this fight.

However, after reviewing the proposal, AARP has concluded that we cannot support the governor’s legislation in its current form. Our organization’s core mission is to advocate for our constituency and make sure they have a strong voice at the Capitol. As such, we believe the administration’s proposal would disproportionally burden older individuals with potentially higher annual health care costs, and additional onerous trips to the doctor and pharmacy.

While it’s true that the governor’s proposal is a preferred alternative to a prescription-only requirement, it’s important for the public and lawmakers to understand that the proposed legislation is in essence a prescription requirement. For individuals who suffer from frequent seasonal allergy or cold symptoms, the proposed purchasing restriction would make allergies equal to a chronic illness. In fact, the governor’s proposal would actually take some popular products completely off the market.

Many Tennesseans rely on frequent doses of over-the-counter allergy medicines to help them manage Tennessee’s allergy seasons, which are consistently among the worst in the nation. By taking these medications, Tennesseans ages 50 and older can cut down on costly trips to the doctor and manage their overall health care budgets. Individuals ages 50 and older already spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on health care costs; the governor’s proposal could unnecessarily increase that burden.

And, as we age, we certainly need to have conversations with our doctors about the over-the-counter medications we take. But having a conversation on when and how to effectively use pseudoephedrine-based cold and allergy medicines is very different from making an appointment to receive a prescription to purchase these products.

It is important to remember that, for many older individuals, traveling to a doctor’s office to get the cold and allergy treatment they need is not always a simple equation. Obviously, many have to deal with mobility challenges on a daily basis or are physically impaired. Adding several additional doctors’ appointments per year could lead many to forgo treatment entirely. That’s not a good solution for anyone. Untreated symptoms — stemming from allergies, colds or flu symptoms — can lead to much more chronic conditions.

Another solution would be to implement policies that target criminals instead of law-abiding individuals. State Rep. Eric Watson of Bradley County has proposed an anti-meth bill that would do just that. His bill would give more teeth to our existing anti-meth laws by further restricting individual purchasing limits, enhancing the state’s meth offender registry to include all convicted drug offenders, and increasing the penalties for those convicted of meth crimes. This is a rational approach to Tennessee’s meth problem — one that is tough on criminals while protecting the rights of honest Tennesseans.

As members of Tennessee’s General Assembly begin to consider Haslam’s proposal and other anti-meth legislation, AARP Tennessee urges them to consider the viewpoints of those Tennesseans ages 50 and older. There is no reason that law-abiding Tennesseans, particularly our seniors, should be punished for the actions of meth criminals. We deserve anti-meth policies that target criminals and do not burden responsible workers and families with additional barriers to important medications.

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(About the writer: Shelley Courington is the associate state director for advocacy at AARP Tennessee.)