War on Drugs

Illinois Mulls Requiring Prescriptions for Cold Medicine. Thanks Meth and the War on Drugs!


Be sure to sneeze on any cops you see.
Credit: comedy_nose / Foter / CC BY

As if it's not hard enough to get an appointment to see a doctor already these days, Illinois lawmakers are considering requiring prescriptions to purchase cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, because of meth.

Bryant Jackson-Green of the Illinois Policy Institute notes how oppressive the government already is to citizens looking to buy common medications in its relentless war to stop people from getting high:

In fact, laws already on the books for these substances already impose burdens on businesses and consumers. The federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 (passed along with the Patriot Act) mandates that medicines with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine be sold only to customers 18 and older and be kept behind the counter, and that pharmacies take down the name and address of everyone who buys them. Anyone who buys more than an arbitrary amount now—3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine base per day and 9 grams per month—has committed a federal crime.

The experiences of ordinary people trying to take care of their families show how these laws are an example of drastic government overreach. In 2006, for example, an Illinois man was arrested and charged with a federal misdemeanor for buying his son "too much" Claritin-D before he went to summer camp. Authorities don't even have to show criminal intent, but merely that someone bought a certain amount of allergy medication, to charge a person with a crime.

Two states, Oregon and Mississippi, have already taken the route of demanding prescriptions for these cold medicines. Despite adding costs and misery to the lives of average, non-meth-using Americans, there's little sign that the additional barriers to access will amount to much. The Cascade Policy Institute, an Oregon-based think tank that promotes free markets and individual liberty, looked at the impact of Oregon's law and was unimpressed:

Our study looked at meth trends in Oregon from 2004 to 2010 and compared what was happening here to similar states and the country as a whole. We found that while the number of meth lab related incidents in 2010 is down 97 percent from 2004, that doesn't speak to the success of the prescription requirement.

Why not? Because six nearby states that don't have a prescription requirement, including Washington State and California, experienced similar declines in meth lab incidents. In addition, almost all of Oregon's 97 percent drop occurred between 2004 and 2006, before the prescription law even took effect.

The decline in illegal meth manufacturing also has not corresponded to a decline in meth use or availability in Oregon. The sad fact is that the reduction of one source of methamphetamine only leads to the increased availability of the drug from other sources, including Mexican super labs.

Furthermore, a new study by Jane Carlisle Maxwell of the University of Texas at Austin and Mary-Lynn Brecht of the University of California at Los Angeles found that Mexican meth manufacturers (in a country that imposed a ban on pseudoephedrine in 2008) are increasingly using alternative methods to make the drug, including the P2P method, which doesn't rely on PSE.

This analysis was written in 2012, and yet at least one police chief in Illinois still thinks pseudoephedrine is required to produce methamphetamines.

While Illinois is considering these harsher methods, Reason's Jacob Sullum recently wrote about neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart's report arguing the dangers and addictive potential of meth have been exaggerated.