Not content with putting cold and allergy remedies behind the pharmacy counter and forcing buyers to sign a log, Oregon plans to fight the "meth epidemic" by requiring a prescription for Sudafed, Claritin D, and similar products. Under a law signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski yesterday, the state pharmacy board has until next July to implement the new restrictions, which are aimed at limiting access to pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used by black market chemists to produce methamphetamine.
Tom Holt, executive director of the Oregon State Pharmacy Association, told the Associated Press "he thinks the law will drive pseudoephedrine-containing products off the market within a year or two." Not to worry: Kulongoski "said he was aware that the law might cause inconvenience for allergy and cold sufferers but said pharmaceutical companies already are producing replacement medications that don't contain pseudoephedrine and can't be converted to meth." One has to wonder why, if such products are perfectly adequate substitutes, pharmaceutical companies are offering them only under government pressure.
Kulongoski implicitly acknowledged that pushing pseudoephedrine off the market will not have much of an impact on consumption of methamphetamine, the vast majority of which comes from Mexican traffickers. In a recent Washington Times op-ed piece, a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, Robert Charles, likewise admitted the limited effectiveness of such measures, even while welcoming federal legislation that would restrict retail access to psuedoephedrine as "good news in the drug war." The next step, Charles said, is to "apply international pressure to the ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine producers in India, China, the Czech Republic and Germany." Then "we might be able to stop at the source a major scourge."
And if the U.S. government manages to cut off the supply of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, what will it do when ever-agile methamphetamine manufacturers switch to methods that don't rely on these precursors? I have a a suggestion: Let's pretend that has already happened, and then we can keep our cold medicine.