DRUGSTORES PUSH FEDERAL LAW ON COLD MEDICINE
WASHINGTON - An association representing more than 36,000 pharmacies is issuing guidelines for possible federal legislation to restrict sales of cold medications containing a substance often used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine - or "speed."
Pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in over-the-counter drugs such as Sudafed, Nyquil and Sinutab, can be extracted by boiling down the cold medicines; toxic chemicals then are used to turn the substance into highly concentrated meth.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, moving to avoid a hodgepodge of state laws, is calling for an overarching federal law that would require that such products be kept behind the pharmacy counter and sold only by a licensed pharmacist or pharmacy personnel.
Purchases should be limited to 9 grams, or 366 30-milligram pills, in 30 days, the association says.
The guidelines also suggest that drugstores be required to keep written or elec- tronic logs of all pseudoephedrine purchases to assist law-enforcement efforts.
"These principles strike a balance between keeping valuable products available to our customers and combating dangerous, illegal practices," Craig Fuller, the group's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement Sunday.
In January, a dozen Republican and Democratic senators announced legislation to put drugs containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter. The drugstore association opposed that bill and said it would create unacceptable barriers for regular customers.
Now, however, "It's time for a federal solution," said Mary Ann Wagner, vice president for pharmacy regulatory affairs at the association.
Wagner said companies that run pharmacies in different states have to deal with a variety of laws for pseudoephedrine sales. Six states allow only pharmacies to sell drugs with pseudoephedrine; seven make retailers lock up the products or sell them from staffed counters.
Legislatures in 22 states are considering similar restrictions.
The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that more than 7,000 meth labs were dismantled nationwide in 2003.
According to the White House Office of National Drug Policy, meth is a highly addictive stimulant. Chronic abuse can lead to psychotic behavior, including intense paranoia, hallucinations and out-of-control rages.
Last week, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kmart Holding Corp., CVS Corp., Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreen Co. announced they will move medications with pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters. Target Corp. and Albertson's Inc. already had made such a move.
All seven companies are members of the drugstore association, along with nearly 200 other chains. Local effect
S.C. authorities found 154 meth labs in 2004, more than double the previous year. The state has enacted a program called Methwatch to help curb the spread of meth labs by placing signs in stores to deter people from stealing potential meth ingredients, such as pseudoephedrine.
In April, North Myrtle Beach police initiated a training program to help rental-property owners spot signs of meth labs.
N.C. authorities found 300 illegal meth labs in 2004, up from 168 in 2003. Last month, the N.C. Senate approved a bill that restricts sales of some cold medicines.