Drug Policy

Be Thankful You Can Still Buy That Jumbo Bottle of Tylenol


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.]

NEXT: Ron Paul! Gary Johnson! Fusionism! Liberaltarians! Reason!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. 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.

    Be glad that’s ALL they require of you. Here in Oregon, you need a fucking prescription.

    1. Oregon being a democratic stronghold, i find this wholly unsurprising

      1. of course it’s “unsurprising” that doctors write perscriptions. who else would? or perhaps ur saying that states rights should NOT prevail over R’s “annoyances?

        1. once again my tiny brain fails to comprehend the actual point

          1. Want to go make out?

  2. Why don’t you buy by mail?

    1. Great Idea, i actually buy my ibuprofen/codiene from N.Z. or Aust. my dogs medicine from N.Z. and sometimes other stuff from India N.Z. Aust. or Canada. all chaeper and in more quanity than you can get in the states, even with shipping its cheaper. OH and Mecurichrome, a great topical anti, is only avail overseas, grew up using it to treat punctures.

      1. When I get codeine in Canada from pharmacies near the US border, the pharmacist will often remind me of the limit you can bring across the border per day (IIRC, it’s ~150). I didn’t realize you could get it by mail.

        1. TECHNICALLY speaking, you can’t. tylenol w/codeine is a controlled substance and the feds don’t technically allow it. realistically speaking, they don’t make huge efforts to stop it

          they draw a bright line between controlled substances and mere legend drugs (prescription meds that are not controlled substances)

          1. This bright line doesn’t seem to be so bright. A lot of dog owners had Trilostane interdicted in the mail from the UK.

        2. I doubt you can get DEA scheduled drugs by mail. Just take ibuprofen across the border and trade it on the streets for codeine.

          1. you CAN get DEA controlled/scheduled drugs by mail. Heck, my police dept. provided drug plan has that option (90 day supply via mail)

            you CANNOT get controlled substances via the mail from OUT OF THE COUNTRY. that is illegal. for stuff like tylenol w/codeine, the feds may generally not care all that much, but it is definitely NOT legal to have any controlled substance mailed to you from a pharmacy not in the US

            1. You might. Some places. From some doctors. For now.

              Now, try it in Virginia. Or Alabama.

              The DEA would rather see pain patients in agony than risk losing control.

              1. the main difference with my drug plan provider is that schedule III drugs and above – the script must be mailed to the company, whereas other shit can just be faxed.

                customs could not give a flying fuck about people taking personal use quantities of tylenol w/codeine over the border back into the US. just declare it and they don’t care.

                no “legit” canadian pharmacy will mail a script for scheduled drugs (I to III) to american addresses, though.

                when it comes to stuff from overseas pharmacies, especially if it’s minor crap like valium, if customs seizes it, they just send a seizure letter. if people ignore the seizure letter nothing ever happens. if they protest and try to get their drugs, customs might do something.

                the vast majority of drug cases i deal with btw are forged scripts/etc. for painkillers. by FAR.

                local pharmacies allow C-III scripts to be CALLED in, and they don’t even check caller id to see if it’s a doctor’s office. any nimrod who is reasonably convincing sounding can do it. and many do.

                C-II requires an actual script and the new WA scripts are very difficult to forge.

            2. you CANNOT get controlled substances via the mail from OUT OF THE COUNTRY.

              Yeah, that’s what I meant. I bet ICE would be all up your ass if you tried to import scheduled narcotics by mail. Easy drug bust.

  3. You know what’s funny? All the Democrats who squeal like stuck pigs at the idea of requiring voters to show ID, since it’s such a burden for poor people, and then turn around and require ID for you to buy Sudafed.

    1. “The Right To Vote is our most important and fundamental right”


    2. I don’t find it funny at all. You shouldn’t need ID to vote or to get Sudafed.

  4. Well, all you have to do to realize the scope of the meth problem this country faces is visit Ontario airport in the Inland Empire. Despite millions of Rivertucky residents within a short drive of this magnificent airport, it is a virtual ghosttown, save for the occasional Continental flight. Meth ruins airports.

  5. The government is addicted to banning things. I think we need to stage an intervention.

    1. Maybe we can send them to one of those Haitian reform schools.

      “It’s for your own good, Chuck.”

    2. Is that why we never play “Night Crawlers” anymore?

    3. Denying people access to medical care to fight a losing culture war isn’t normal.
      But on government it is.

      Government: Not even once

    4. The government is addicted to banning things. I think we need to stage an intervention.

      Before you became addicted to banning things, you were so happy and childlike. Now all you can think about is banning another substance. Even as those who love you watch it destroy you, all you can think about is the next ban. You have no time to balance the budget, you don’t pay any attention to civil rights, you abuse the taxpayer and have completely lost your sense of Justice! I want the old government back!

  6. IIRC, you can get a lot of ‘perscription’ medicine over-the-counter in England. AMA fights such purchases here

    1. mexico, too./ otoh, many food supplements are illegal in canada. i have a friend who runs a supplement company and his shipments to canadian customers get seized all the time. we are talking shit like yohimbe and individual amino acids!

      DSHEA is actually a very libertarian piece of legislation, and canada has no DSHEA

      1. I prefer that our government banned shit that didn’t work instead of medicines that do.

        1. I’d prefer the government to stay out of decisions about what does and doesn’t work.

        2. lots of DSHEA compatible stuff WORKS. Witness: ephedrine. Yohimbine. etc.

          furthermore, when it comes to dietary supplements, it is NOT the job of the govt. to say “what works” or doesn’t work.

          Dietary supplements by definition cannot be promoted to cure any disease etc. that’s not what they are there for.

          1. I’m not saying the government should regulate supplements or drugs. However, if given the choice, I’d rather be allowed to buy medically necessary drugs OTC. Also, Canada never passed C-51, so supplements are still legal.

            1. i can just tell you customs canada seizes

              1) individual amino acids
              2) yohimbe

              tons of other stuff that supp companies in the US ship to canadian customers. stuff, that is legal in the US, otc.

              i just find it ironic that many dietary supps get more scrutiny in canada than codeine, which is OTC

              BOTH should be OTC, of course

      2. Yeah, choline was illegal in Canada, although I think they’ve finally changed that.

  7. Dallas allergy season has been pretty bad so far this year. I’ve been reduced to collecting the free samples that my mother-in-law is constantly getting from sales reps at the doctor’s office she works at.

    Damn the city of Richardson for protecting and encouraging wildflowers!

      1. I laughed.

    1. Allergies are proof of your own physical weakness. Don’t expect us to give up our pretty flowers and trees just to keep your sniveling sinuses clear.

      1. The existence of these drugs is turning evolution on its head.

        See, if some dude is walking around sniffling and sneezing with puffy eyes, that should theoretically make him less attractive to some skinny little nubile coed compared to me. And that should make her want to reproduce with me and propagate my non-allergy genes into the world.

        But drugs changed all that and now she just sees the allergy sufferer as a thinner more attractive version of me with better teeth and more hair.


    2. It’s horrible anywhere during the wild flower season in the metro area. I wake up wanting to claw my eyes out every morning.

  8. When I lived in Prague, you couldn’t buy any medicine over-the-counter, not even an aspirin. Every transaction had to be carried out through an official state pharmacist.

    Don’t think it can’t happen here.

    1. I’ve been living in Prague since ’95 and I’ve never seen that. All the pharmacies until recently had everything behind the counter, but that was typical for all Czech small retail operations. There is a new chain (Vital) that runs an open Walgreens type format which is pretty cool.

      1. And, unlike the US, safe effective drugs like domperidone (Motilium), which worked like a charm to stop my son from puking all night are available with a prescription (and OTC in many other countries).

        1. You could tell him to quit binge drinking

          1. Or reading H&R commentary.

        2. Dom Perignon keeps you from puking?

          1. Domperidone (trade names Motilium, Motillium, Motinorm and Costi) is an antidopaminergic drug, developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica, and used orally, rectally or intravenously, generally to suppress nausea and vomiting, or as a prokinetic agent. It has also been used to stimulate lactation.

            I’d rather puke

  9. Be Thankful You Can Still Buy That Jumbo Bottle of Tylenol

    Yeah, but acetaminophen isn’t much fun compared to pseudoephedrine.

    1. pseudo sucks. i use ephedrine all the time as a dietary supplement. it’s very effective for both dieting (when stacked with caffeine) and maintaining muscle mass while doing so, and for strength enhancement. my sports org disallows its use at contests, but allows it during training

      1. kick it up by putting a baby aspirin into the mix. The classic ECA stack

        1. the research i’ve read says the “A” part of the stack offers no benefit. it’s a throwback to the old skool, but i have yet to see any real evidence it enhances the stack

          probably can’t hurt, though

  10. A 1998 [British] law aimed at preventing suicides limits [acetaminophen or aspirin] sales to 32 tablets per transaction in pharmacies and 16 in other retail outlets.

    I wonder what the British suicide rate has been in the years since. I’m sure it’s somewhere close to zero, or even in the negative territory. And no one has ever had a headache so bad they wanted to kill themselves, right?

    1. fwiw, out of all the suicide attempt by oversode i have been to , the ONLY successful drug related intentional suicides i have investigated personally – tylenol

      not morphine, heroin, oxycontin, cocaine, etc. etc.


      1. And Tylenol overdose really isn’t the way to go. Sad.

        1. it’s a gruesome death. it’s much easier to just buy a vial of humulin R, which is an over the counter insulin and some needles (also over the counter), and inject a whole bunch and simply fall asleep

          this would be preferable to bleeding profusely through every orifice as happens from what i have seen with severe liver failure.

          1. Simply fall asleep, or have a seizure? If you’re lucky, the seizure will come while you’re already unconscious, but I wouldn’t count on it.

          2. I would prefer nitrogen gas.

            1. bit harder to come by is my point. it’s pretty simple (in my state) to buy humulin R and some syringes OTC.

              and RELATIVELY painless and problem free way to go

              when your blood sugar drops that precipitously, the usual chain of events is you pass outpretty quickly and feel nothing when you actually die

              brain needs sugah y0!

  11. I actually prefer to suffer than to buy on those terms.

    But if any politician is every so unwise as the brag about this accomplishment to my face there is a very good chance I will simply hit the son of a bitch. Any of the breed who are reading this should take warning: it is not a safe topic for cocktail parties.

    Leaving aside the un-intended but entirely predictable consequence of making meth production the province of heavily armed syndicates, the pure cheek of it is astonishing.

    Who the fuck do they think they are?!?

    1. they are from the government and they are here to help

      1. I thought it was To Serve and To Protect.

        1. i’m just quotin’ reagan, in one of his rare true libertarian moments

    2. Who the fuck do they think they are?!?

      Our betters, prole. Kiss the ring.


    3. But if any politician is every so unwise as the brag about this accomplishment to my face there is a very good chance I will simply hit the son of a bitch.

      I’d just sneeze in his face. “Oh, sorry… My allergies are acting up, and you assholes make it too damned hard to get effective antihistamines.”


      1. pseudoephedrine is a decongestant. it is NOT an antihistamine. antihistamines are actually EASIER to get as there are now OTC antihistamines available that used to be available via prescription

        sorry, if that’s nitpicky, but it’s true. pseudo is not an antihistamine

        note also that antihistamines are frequently used to potentiate opioids (iow improve the effect for many), but they are still over the counter, easily available and there is effectively no limit on what you can buy.

        1. Just Say CHEESE!

  12. I also recently had the aggravation of purchasing pseudoephedrine when I had the flu and discovered the formerly fantastically effective Nyquil / Dayquil had been reformulated to be pseudoephedrine-free. Am I supposed to be as stupid as our regulatory overlords and believe meth-cooks were trying to isolate p-fed from these green and orange mixtures to whip up a batch of crank???

  13. When I was in Indiana, I always thought it was amusing that it was easier for me to buy a gun than it was for me to get allergy medicine.

    1. They should be equally easy to buy.

  14. So, how hard is it to cook up pseudoephedrine at home?


    1. what is your question? cook up meth FROM pseudo? relatively easy. that’s why criminals do it so commonly and easily.

      or cook up pseudo from what exactly?

      source chemicals?

      1. I think he’s looking to cook up pseud from meth, which may be easier to get!

        You can buy ma huang (ephedra), but you may not like the effects of the ephedrine that makes up part of it. Making pseudoephedrine is hard unless you can get a chiral precursor. Better to make phenylpropanolamine if you don’t want too “speedy” a product.

      2. Or just use phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine). Many people say pseudoephedrine’s more effective, but I don’t know of a good study that confirms that. There may be differences in psychoactivity that lead to unblinding of subjects, so I’d want to see physical measurements of decongestion rather than just reports of satisfaction.

        1. BTW, if somebody wants a study done, I’m the science director of a clinical trials program. We test in the Panama highlands.

        2. ephedrine (primate tablets or bronkaid tablets) is a great bronchodilator, stimulant, and diet aid (think Ephedr/Caffeine stacks a la the old skool hydroxycut).

          meth cooks prefer pseudoephedrine to ephedrine to cook, but can use either

        3. As far as I can tell, phenylephrine is a sugar pill. (Yep, a personal report.)

          1. And not even a good tasting sugar pill.

  15. Off topic, but if you haven’t seen it yet many of you will enjoy today’s SMBC.

  16. I know at this point that I should never be surprised at pols who think they can solve every problem through regulation, but they got me again. They regulated acetaminophen to reduce suicide? It’s an effective, if painful, way to do the job, but it takes a supreme kind of idiot to think that making Tylenol bottles smaller is going to have any effect on suicide rates. There are millions of other ways to kill oneself, and anyone serious about it will find a way. Belief in bigger government requires a rejection of critical thinking and a basic understanding of cause and effect.

    1. And that doesn’t even address the issue of whether government should be trying to reduce suicide through legislation in any case.

    2. one of my APAP suicide attempts didn’t even use tylenol per se. they used about a dozen bottles of nyquil (the kind WITH acetaminophen)…

      same effect.

      i agree, it’s ludicrous. like somebody who is going to swallow a bottle of lets say 200 tylenol tabs, would never think to swallow 200 tabs by combining 4 bottles of 50!

  17. You pussies should do what I do: Not get sick. I sneezed once seven years ago. But I might be made of pure virus at this point. LOL


    1. Really a little to see you again.

    2. Really sad to see you again.

      1. Chinabot, we’re not going to buy your shoes or scarves if you’re all depressing like this.

  18. “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”

    Jacob, better hope none of those pharmacists make any clerical errors, or you may find yourself on the losing end of a no knock SWAT raid.

  19. I always get my wife to buy it for me. I’m not putting my name in the book.

  20. Fucking CVS, they’re not content with ID for sudafed, they need ID for cigarettes, ID for cough medicine, and ID for money orders; that last one caused me to walk out of the store. Isn’t anonymity half the point of money orders? Fuckers.

  21. Who ever thought that Britain would one day have more freedom and less government intrusion than the United States? Maybe monarchs and parliaments aren’t so bad after all…at least they’re not Diane Feinstein.

  22. Apparently Texas legislators are so stupid that they fail to recognize that different sized packages have different amounts of pseudoephedrine in them. It would seem that to them there is no difference between a package of 12 tabs and one of 48 tabs. This allows pharmacies to keep customers from purchasing the legal limit per transaction by stocking only the smaller packages. I know for a fact that this happens. It’s done because some pharmacies don’t care about customers, and they’re scared to death of the DEA. Once again, law abiding citizens are punished because of some “criminals”.

    Not only is the whole purchase procedure a hassle, but in some pharmacies the customer can’t purchase even the legal limit… because of the two-package rule, which is NOT FOUND in the Federal law. The inclusion by Texas “legislators” of the two-package rule is completely nonsensical; it defies common sense to the nth degree.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.