Buying Cold Medicine in Missouri Is About to Be A Great Big Hassle

The medicine meth cooks crave. - Image via
The medicine meth cooks crave.
Image via
The medicine meth cooks crave.
Missouri residents suffering from runny noses and stuffy sinuses are about to discover that buying certain types of cold medicine will make them even more sick and tired.

Yesterday, new regulations took effect requiring more than 1,300 pharmacists statewide that sell medicine that contains pseudoephedrine -- i.e. Sudafed, Claritin-D and Contac -- to enter personal information about the buyers into an electronic database.

Pseudoephedrine is the one of main ingredients in meth and Missouri is one of ten states that requires stores to electronically track the drug's sales. The tactic is intended to prevent meth cooks from "smurfing" large quantities of the medicine for illicit use but, according to local and federal law enforcement officials, the new database will do little to prevent meth addicts from stockpiling the stuff.

Here is the SE Missourian explaining the new electronic tracking measures:
Under Missouri's new rules, pharmacies will have to enter a customer's full name, address, birth date and signature in the database, as well as specific details about the type and quantity of the pseudoephedrine-based product that was purchased. The system will reject customers who already have exceeded the limit and alert police about the attempted purchase...

Missouri law limits people to buying 3.6 grams a day -- which is about 120 standard tablets -- or 9 grams in a 30-day period of products containing pseudoephedrine.
And here is what Kent Shaw, the assistant chief of California's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, told Congress in April about electronic tracking:
"The [pharmaceutical] industry has mastered appearing as if it is attempting to solve the problem," he said. "In reality, it is merely perpetuating the problem in order to continue reaping the financial gains generated by meth labs."
That quote comes from the Riverfront Times feature story, "Shaken and Baked," which detailed the latest innovation by the nation's backyard meth cooks. A process called "The Shake and Bake Method" allows tweakers to use small amounts of pseudoephedrine to make meth. Also from the story:
Shaw and other law-enforcement officials say the electronic databases are shortsighted and ultimately ineffective. They argue that requiring a doctor's prescription to obtain pseudoephedrine -- a policy that was in place in the U.S. until 1976 -- is the only surefire solution.

The results in Oregon seem to back them up. Before becoming the first state to adopt a pseudoephedrine prescription measure in 2006 (Mississippi joined Oregon earlier this year), Oregon seized more than 200 meth labs annually. Last year police found just ten.

When enacted locally, pseudoephedrine prescription laws have had similarly dramatic effects. Last July Washington became the first of ten Missouri communities (nine cities and one county) to ban over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and similar products.

"Ninety days after the law went into effect, we saw a 94 percent drop in sales of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine," Jason Grellner says, "and a corresponding 84 percent drop in crimes in the Washington, Missouri, zip code."
The best way to avoid the hassle when buying your over-the-counter cold medicine? Pick one the (many) products that doesn't list pseudoephedrine as an ingredient.

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