With the next session of the Georgia General Assembly on the horizon, members are already beginning to lay out legislative priorities. For many, these efforts include finding new and imaginative ways of expanding government’s already wide-reach into the private lives of the citizens. Among other products and activities in lawmakers’ sights this session are many of the more effective cold remedies used by Peach State cold sufferers.
Such products have been under assault by state legislators for years simply because they contain pseudoephedrine, a chemical used in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine. After the coming year’s session, in which the Republicans enjoy the largest majority since at least Reconstruction, cold sufferers looking to ease their symptoms with Sudafed and other such remedies will find it increasingly difficult and expensive.
Among the ideas already being floated under the Gold Dome is the creation of an electronic tracking system that keeps tabs on purchases of allergy and cold medications containing pseudoephedrine. Also in the future if legislators have their way, these products could no longer be purchased at super markets or convenience stores, but only at drug stores. Another proposal would force cold sufferers to schedule and pay for a visit to a doctor in order to obtain a prescription for a simple cold-relief capsule.
These proposals target a problem the legislature supposedly solved in 2005 by passing legislation that moved products containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter at stores, and required purchasers to sign a government register kept by the seller. As inconvenient as this earlier law made it for consumers to buy cold medicines, many police chiefs, legislators, and state anti-drug officials continue to clamor for more and tighter controls.
State Sen. Buddy Carter of Chatham County, for example, is planning to reintroduce legislation to set up an electronic, government-controlled database to monitor the distribution of prescription drugs. Two years ago, when this legislation was called the “Prescription Drug Monitoring Act,” it was defeated. This session, in a thinly-veiled ploy to improve chances for passage of the legislation, he cleverly has changed the name of the bill to the “Patient Safety Act.”
Advocates of this proposed law point out that more than 40 states have implemented a prescription drug monitoring program; and some of those states are pressuring Georgia to join them.
The problem with this legislation is it treats all prescription drug users as suspected criminals; and it ignores Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable, warrantless searches. The legislation also would be harmful to the doctor-patient relationship, because doctors would be required to factor in the reporting of their prescriptions to the government before writing one for a patient. The threat of being themselves constantly monitored for “over prescribing” medications would weigh on the physicians’ decisions as well.
In a February report by John Stossel on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s war on prescription drugs, he noted that more than half the patients with severe chronic pain do not receive enough painkillers to ease their suffering. Unfortunately, legislators often fail to realize the laws they pass can actually harm real people, and ultimately can lead people in severe pain to do desperate things.
The “carrot” of federal grant money is being bandied about as an incentive to pass drug-monitoring legislation. While often a short-term incentive for states to pass bills the feds favor, sooner or later the federal money dries up and the states are left on their own fiscal resources. Still, the beat goes on.
The slippery slope of government regulation undercutting our privacy clearly is illustrated by these recurrent efforts to catch a handful of lawbreakers, by regulating businesses and by inconveniencing and restricting the general, law-abiding population. These actions also vividly show why the Republican Party in Georgia by and large is no longer the party of smaller, less-intrusive government.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code