A new study from healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health argues a shortage of primary care physicians in South Carolina could be strained if the state were to require prescriptions for certain cold medications.
The study was commissioned by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association in response to moved by some South Carolina lawmakers to fight the state’s meth epidemic. There are bills in the state legislature that would require a prescription for over-the-counter medications like Sudafed and Allegra-D.
Avalere Senior Vice President Caroline Pearson said Thursday that, if the prescription requirement is implemented, it will mean more people will have to go to a doctor for something like the common cold. “What we see is that the impact would be a real increase in demand for physician visits from any patient that was looking to use pseudoephedrine products to relieve symptoms,” said Pearson.
The report noted there are already a large number of South Carolinians living in locations without a primary doctor. “In South Carolina today, the state has 93 primary care physician shortage areas which are designated by the federal government,” Pearson said. “And what that equates to is that 26 percent of South Carolinians already are living in an area without enough primary care physicians.”
Pseudoephedrine can be purchased over-the-counter in South Carolina and is subsequently an ingredient used among methamphetamine cookers. South Carolina uses a national database to alert a retailer whenever a person buys more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine per day and 9 grams within a 30-day period (equal to about eight boxes of decongestants). The idea was to stop meth cookers from going store-to-store and buying the maximum amount at each location.
But law enforcement officers say cookers get around the law by paying others to buy the medication for them to avoid reaching the max. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel has previously proposed reclassifying pseudoephedrine so that it would require a prescription. Such a plan would have to approved by the legislature.
The study estimates changing the law would create more than 17,600 additional doctors’ visits each year and cost the state about $300,000 in Medicaid spending. That would exacerbate the existing physician shortage, the report speculates.