Cold Medicine Registration First, Confiscation Later

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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.

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  1. In this war on meth you’re either with us or against us.

    We must invade any country that has methods of meth production.

  2. Ah, fuck. The only “good news in the drug war” is that they’re losing it.

    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.

    While they’re at it, why not restrict access to buckets, pans and stoves, all of which are necessary to produce meth, yet have other legal applications (just like psuedoephedrine!).

    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.”

    Hey, why not just put up a big wall around our borders. That’d solve lots of problems. Come on, folks…let’s not kid ourselves here. The fact that meth use is not an epidemic to begin with notwithstanding, trying to stop the flow of sudafed around the world is like trying to dam the Rio Grande with a couple softball-sized rocks.

  3. Just to get this joke out of the way:

    Why does Glaxo-Smith-Kline hate America?

  4. “While they’re at it, why not restrict access to buckets, pans and stoves, all of which are necessary to produce meth, yet have other legal applications”

    In other news today, Senators John McCain and Joseph Liebermann co-sponsored legislation requiring a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of metal cookware….

  5. Kulongoski is the worst governor possible, honestly, but I can see why Oregonians picked him given the choice between Teddy and Kevin “Tax-and-spend-but-I-hate-abortion” Mannix. I voted for Ted, much to my own dismay.

    For a state containing the “Grass Seed Capital of the World“, this is really a bogus move. But wait, there’s more! The Oregon Health Plan covers those with incomes up to 200% of the poverty level, and IIRC covers prescriptions, now the already broke state will have to pick up the tab for cold medication as well! Way to go, guys. Way. To. Go.

  6. The only explanation that I can see for these phenomena is that people LIKE being told they can’t do things by government. Especially if the government can gin up some outlandish rationale for their edicts, like ‘meth is the new crack’ or ‘we have to randomly search a small percentage of bags on the subway, or the terrorists will win!’ It’s only a small portion of us awful ‘libertines’ who think that you could get the same result (absolutely no change) or a better one WITHOUT the government interference.

    No, I don’t understand how people could think that way, but I think it’s fairly obvious that plenty of people DO think that way. How many interviews at airports have you seen where some dope says ‘well, I don’t really like taking my shoes and belt off and having my pants fall down as I walk through the metal detector, but if it keeps us safe from terrorists, I support it.” Do these people just not think about how these things actually help? Or are they just willing to take the Voice of Authority at face value, and see that ‘well some guy tried to blow up a plane with an explosive shoe’, and not realize that noone will ever try that again if they want it to work.

    I guess I’m with the terrorists and the drug pushers, because I can’t see any way these stupid laws and procedures help us, so I’m against the government.

  7. They passed similar crap in Texas a year ago, and it just took effect this month. (You don’t have have a scrip, but it is behind the counter). This after various lawsuits reduced the market for decongestants to only pseudoephedrine-based drugs in recent years. Hey, you can get the instructions on how to make meth on the interweb – just google it and you can find them. It seems like a huge pain in the ass to me, plus the risk of explosion seems a bit to high for my taste.

    Didn’t they used to make meth out of fertilizer or something? Why not sell that at convenience stores, so I can get my Sudafed back?

  8. Jeebus, Highway, it’s all so simple:

    outlawing such decongestants will reduce airline terrorism. Do you know the headache you get if you’re congested and have to fly? It’s all part of this elaborate (overly complicated?) chess game war on terror against Saudi Arabia, where all other countries get “done”, to paraphrase Moana (sic), EXCEPT for S.A.

    now report to your re-education center.

  9. As solid a Closer as I’ve read in some time:

    SULLUM: 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.

    SH: Nice work. Those interested in helping us with continued education of the media regarding the utter futility of drug war policies to address the very real problems of substance abuse in our country are invited to contact me via our Media Activism Center at MAP. http://www.mapinc.org/resource

    Steve Heath

  10. What happens if I go into a store and try buying all the over the counter medication they have containing pseudoephedrine?

    Assuming I’d make it home, I would guess I’d be safest if I lay in my driveway, face down and with my arms and legs spread, waiting for the authorities.

  11. The funny is that anyone who wants it can drive across the bridge into Washington and buy it there over-the-counter. I doubt that the state patrol is going to put up stop-and-search road blocks to tag all the Oregonians with out of state Sudafed.

  12. This retarded pseudoephedrine restriction has already hit home for me. My local Walgreen’s refused to refill my prescription for Allegra-D (which contains pseudoephedrine) because the script was over 6 months old. It seems that pseudoephedrine is a Schedule IV Controlled substance in the state of Missouri now.

    Because of this asinine new law I had to go without my allergy medicine on a weekend camping trip.

    But, fortunately I was able to score some NyQuil from the little country store we stopped at on the way to the campgrounds. So, at least I was able to sleep comfortably.

    Ah, NyQuil. Its amazing that its still on the shelf. It contains three substances considered contraband in some circles; Pseudoephedrine, Dextromethorphan, and its 10% Alcohol. I’m waiting for the DEA to bust down my door any day now.

    -Matt C.-

  13. Sullum:

    Because of this asinine new law I had to go without my allergy medicine on a weekend camping trip.

    Another victim of the drug war…

  14. I wonder how effective this move will be, though I maintain that you otherwise sensible reasonoids underestimate the very real problems with meth.

    Anyway, in answer to Sullum’s question: “One has to wonder why, if such products are perfectly adequate substitutes, pharmaceutical companies are offering them only under government pressure.”

    Because the pharma companies earn the profits from selling the product while the negative externalities are borne by rural sheriff’s departments. Why would they change?

  15. Trotsky – Juanita- Jane – but but but… your name doesn’t begin with “J” now…

    at least i’m happy that the evil pharma companies have been blamed now. damn profit-maximizing firms.

  16. MattC,
    At least you could rest assured that no one out in the woods near you had any meth! Oh, wait…

    As a new & proud Oregonian, I have difficulty putting into words the pride that this law instills. I may need high explosives to properly express it. It’s a good thing Washington, Idaho, California and Nevada don’t sell any pseudo-ephedrine containing substances. If they did we’d have to start searching border-crossing cars.

    Incidentally, according to a representative of the drug companies interviewed on Oregon’s NPR a couple of days ago, the substitute drugs intended to replace pseudo-eph don’t work at all for about 10% of the population. But we’ll all be safe from the scourge of meth, so who cares about 350,000 miserable people?

  17. A few years ago I read a story which said that cold medicines INCREASE the duration of a cold, something to do with suppressing the symptoms. (In retrospect, I think it was written by one of those virtue-through-suffering people who’d look down on a woman who takes painkillers while giving birth.)

    Anyway, I was teaching at the time, and being in contact with so many kids meant I was almost ALWAYS either suffering from a cold, getting over a cold, or coming down with a cold. So I read this article, and a week later start to come down with a cold, and decided I would forgo medicine and Tough It Out.

    Bad, bad, BAD idea. Going without medicine enabled the cold to settle in and get REALLY serious; by day two I gave in and started taking Day-Quil and Ny-Quil and everything else, but it was too late–my cold had morphed into a serious infection which required me to take time off work, go to the doctor, and get a prescription for antibiotics. And I imagine a lot of poor Oregonians who can’t afford doctor visits will experience the same thing I did.

    So, behold the drug war in all its stupid, contradictory glory: they oppose drugs in the name of Public Health and pass laws which will make people even sicker; they oppose drugs because they Hurt Productivity and pass laws which will require people to take time off work and spend LOTS of money just to deal with a simple cold.

    On average, a cold costs me about twenty dollars’ worth of medicine, and twenty minutes to go to the store and buy it. In retrospect, I have no IDEA how my uninsured self could have afforded to complete college and grad school if I’d had to leave work and pay for a doctor’s appointment every time I came down with the sniffles.

  18. Did you guys see the (burried) article in the NYTimes a week or two ago about how varrious Indian convienence store owners/cashiers were arrested for selling cough medicine to undercover agents who said things like “I am going to do a cook”. Thus, by the DA’s standard, teh clerks knowingly sold precursors, thus they go to jail. Doubt it will go that far, but preety sure they are ruined anyway with lost wages and court costs, etc. Sad stuff.

  19. Jen,
    “I have no IDEA how my uninsured self could have afforded to complete college and grad school if I’d had to leave work and pay for a doctor’s appointment every time I came down with the sniffles.”

    As a topless dancer (if I recall correctly), I’m sure you would have had NO trouble paying for cold meds… 😉

  20. Jennifer,

    Cold medicines (as opposed to antibiotics) do nothing to prevent infection, they just suppress symptoms. There’s no way not taking a cold medicine could cause an infection to get worse.

    If you got that sick, you probably had something worse than a cold to begin with, and cold medicines wouldn’t have helped.

    1. Sudaphed does help prevent sinus and bronchial infections because it helps blood vessels cool down so mucus can flow and not get stagnant where it can and will set up shop for nasty infections …best combo is sudaphed with guiafenesin…easy to find as Mucinex D…that also keeps mucus thin so trouble doesn’t stay too long to need an antibiotic….and it’s very clear that 5 years later the fact that I can’t buy sudaphed at an airport is criminal and that the pharmacy has to swipe my drivers license and then I have to sign. I sighn my name x in protest, but it’s an insidious law that makes my already chronic sinusitis worse….if only politicians had to follow that doctorncredo “first, do no harm” oh wait….maybe they could all follow it…

  21. wsdave,

    A topless dancer with a bad cold probably wouldn’t make much. Though it does give new meaning to the concept of lost productivity… 😉

  22. Guys, I made damned good money for a college student, but how much does a doctor visit and prescription meds cost when you have no insurance to cover it? I wasn’t so wealthy that I could have easily absorbed an extra few hundred bucks a month, for medicine that should only cost twenty.

    Crimethink–
    All right, so maybe it was just coincidence that I’d caught something super-nasty at the same time I decided to try and go without medicine. Even if my anecdote doesn’t apply here, this is STILL a bullshit law. And I’d say it still endangers public health–I am not trying to be disgusting, but besides topless-dancing grad students, which types of workers are most likely to be uninsured? Low-paid people like food workers and wait staff. Do you want to go to a restaurant where the workers can’t afford to get their cold-medicine prescriptions and thus have to let their noses dribble all over your food? I don’t think so.

  23. Then “we might be able to stop at the source a major scourge.”

    He clearly defines “source” differently than we would. The “source” of the “scourge” is the meth buyer, not the supplier.

    Getting to take NyQuil is a nice bonus to getting sick. They better keep their grubby hands off it.

  24. Jennifer,

    I agree with you about this law. But I just think that we’re an overmedicated society in general, and cold medicines are a case in point.

  25. Well, I live in Houston and apparently Houston is the now capital of prescription cough syrup abuse – in fact, we’re now The City of Syrup, according to MTV, and the current hot story in local news is that it’s a HUGE danger to THE CHILDREN, and it’s estimated that THIRTY PERCENT of teenagers here have tried it. No, wait, someone else said that the thirty percent figure is WAY TOO LOW. And, as an example of how dangerous it is, some kids who tried it were ADDICTED AFTER THE VERY FIRST TIME THEY DRANK IT!!!!

    You already have to have a prescription to get it. So, what now – will they ban it completely?
    If I can’t get cough medicine with codeine the next time I get bronchitis, I’m going to be pissed off.

    I fully expect OTC cough meds to disappear behind The Counter any day now.

  26. Crimethink: are you actually Bill Maher? That guy never misses a chance to blather on about how old people are stupid to take all these medications that make their lives liveable. Ugh. It’s your body, do what you want.

    Anyway, I think you guys touched on an interesting subtopic a few posts back: namely, I wonder if the AMA supports this? How about individual general practitioners? It would stand to reason that requiring a prescription to get nyquil would increase the profits of GP’s, so they would lobby for such market interference. Hell, we all know damned well why the AMA supports the whole doctor-pharmacist-prescription racket. It’s a government-mandated boon for them!

  27. Stubby: I don’t know why they’re beating around the bush—why not just skip all this flirting and get to the point: Federal Government Medication Dispensaries. That’s the logical conclusion of all this mess anyway, right?

    You want some Hall’s cough drops, motherfucker? You’d better get a prescription, then go down to the Medication Dispensary and hope they believe your claims that you’re not gonna use those cough drops to manufacture illicit substances.

  28. The good news in Oregon, and solid proof of government stupidity, is that products containing actual ephedrine are still sold right off the shelves.

  29. Crimethink: are you actually Bill Maher?

    Umm no.

    And, as I said, people can take whatever medicine they want (though unnecessary antibiotic use has troubling externalities), but I can also say that they’re stupid to do so.

  30. Has anyone ever considered that one of the reasons that meth use may be way up is because ephedrine is now illegal? I don’t know about you guys but I want those truck drivers on the highway next to me, AWAKE!

  31. Jennifer: See my earlier post about the OHP, if there’s one thing Oregon’s poor don’t lack it’s access to prescription drugs. Technically most college students qualify, and both major unis have health centers that’ll dispense prescriptions without so much as a second thought. Mainly, though, it’s bloody stupid and a big damn pain in the ass.

  32. Timothy–

    Even so, these people will have to take time off work to see the doctor, rather than just pick up some meds after work. And the people who don’t have their own insurance are often the same people who literally can’t afford to miss even one day of work; those few dollars less in their paycheck make a huge difference.

  33. Getting to take NyQuil is a nice bonus to getting sick.

    Hear, hear. I always say the two things I need to get through a cold are NyQuil and Spaghetti-O’s (I suppose I’ll need a prescription for both, eventually)…

  34. Jennifer:

    You’re exactly right about the opportunity cost. A half a day’s pay (estimating that in all the doctor visit and prescription filling will take about four hours) is a lot of money to some folks. Just one more example of Oregon totally failing to get it. I swear the politicians there are hell-bent on making the entire state unlivable.

  35. Let’s see if I can do a proper Jane/Juanita imitation:

    Plainly, this law doesn’t go far enough. All drugs are dangerous and must be outlawed. Kulongoski is a Democrat, and this proves Democrats are Soft On Drugs. If he’d done the right thing, he’d have made the drug illegal, not prescription-only. And there’d have been a house-to-house search to confiscate any drugs still out there.

    How’d I do?

  36. Sorry, Portlander, but you just missed the boat. It was still a parody rather than a parroting–a person who seriously accused someone of being “soft on drugs” wouldn’t capitalize it as they would “War on Drugs,” and the house-to-house search is maybe a tenth of a degree warmer than the proper Juanitesque flamebait temperature.

    Back on topic–I’m actually not opposed to the notion of socialized medicine, but nonetheless I can’t help wondering–would it have been possible to pass this law (or would it be as likely to stand up in the courts) in a state which did NOT provide free doctor visits for the poor?

  37. Jennifer:
    Damn! So close…

    On topic:
    I’m in Oregon and I don’t recall much discussion about affordability. There was some discussion about inconvenience, but if anyone mentioned affordability, I missed it. I wonder if the absence of discussion of affordability was because everyone assumed the Oregon Health Plan would cover it, or if they just didn’t care. If I were to go by the stereotypes, I’d assume the Democrats are hoping the Oregon Health Plan will step into the breach, and the Republicans just don’t care. (God, I love stereotypes!)

  38. Cold medicines (as opposed to antibiotics) do nothing to prevent infection, they just suppress symptoms.

    Correct, but sudaphed increases nasal/sinus drainage which conceivably could help the infection by getting infected mucus out of your nose to allow the nasal tissues to heal? Just a thought.

    Antibiotics only help bacterial infections.

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