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Putting the Fed in Sudafed

Annys Shin, Washington Post, October 2, 2006

Image PreviewDespite an endless stream of news reports in recent years about the rise of methamphetamine addiction, I was blissfully ignorant a few months back when I ventured to my local Rite Aid for some Sudafed. I walked out with what I thought was a box of those trusty little red pills, only to find out when I got home it had been swapped with a nearly identical looking package containing something called phenylephrine.

When I went up to the pharmacy on my next visit, I saw all the decongestant and cold meds containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were behind the counter to prevent them from being used for more nefarious purposes than clearing my sinuses.

Starting tomorrow, a federal law kicks in that permanently exiles medicines with ephedrine and pseudoephedrine behind the drugstore counter or inside locked cases.

Drugstores, in D.C. at least, already do that for products that have a habit of going missing, such as baby formula, expensive lotions and condoms.

Getting your hands on some Sudafed, however, is going to require more effort than it does to obtain those things. Besides having to track down a store clerk to get it for you, you'll have to flash some ID and sign a log book that the store supposedly keeps for two years and lets law enforcement authorities peek at, as needed.

To get a jump on the new restrictions, drug makers have already started replacing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine with an older ingredient, phenylephrine, which can stay out on store shelves. (The likely cause of my Rite Aid switcheroo.)

But there's debate among experts over whether the substitute is as effective. I didn't think it was and the next time I was at the drugstore, I headed straight for the pharmacy to ask for a box of Sudafed. (You're already limited to buying 3.6 grams a day and 9 grams a month.) Now, I hoard my supply the way Elaine on "Seinfeld" hoarded the Sponge.

Law enforcement authorities assure us this is all for the greater good. According to Francesca Lunzer Kritz, author of the Post story, meth use is far lower in states that restrict pseudoephedrine sales to drugstores only, compared with states that don't.