It is now allergy season in Dallas, which means I am especially conscious of state and federal restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine. The federal limit of nine grams per month allows me to get through the day, since two 12-hour, 120-milligram caplets per day equals 7.2 grams per month. But I can't get a month's supply in one visit to the pharmacy, since Congress has limited cold and allergy sufferers to 3.6 grams in any 24-hour period, while Texas has decreed that they may buy no more than two packages at a time, regardless of the total pseudoephedrine content. More annoying than the quantity limits is the degrading ritual of requesting the decongestant from the pharmacist, who is required to keep it behind the counter, and signing an electronic log while presenting my driver's license so the state can keep track of my consumption and make sure I'm not setting up a meth lab in my garage. But I guess I should consider myself lucky that I can still, in the Land of the Free, waltz into a Walmart or Costco anytime I feel like it and load up on as much acetaminophen or aspirin as I want. That is not true of Brits with headaches, as Stephen J. Dubner recently explained at the Freakonomics blog. A 1998 law aimed at preventing suicides limits sales to 32 tablets per transaction in pharmacies and 16 in other retail outlets.
In case you were wondering, British law also limits pseudoephedrine sales, to 720 milligrams per transaction. Although that sounds stricter than the U.S. rules, there does not seem to be a monthly maximum or a database to keep track of purchases. The British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency summarizes the restrictions on page 7 of this newsletter (PDF).
More on the pseudoephedrine crackdown here.
[Thanks to Robert Woolley for the tip.]