Oregon Considers Prescriptions for Sudafed
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Congress is considering limits on the cold remedy pseudoephedrine. About 30 states have already made the drug a restricted medication. That's because the decongestant is an essential ingredient in methamphetamine production. Oregon was one of the first states to limit access to the drug. Now it wants to restrict it even further. Colin Fogarty of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
COLIN FOGARTY reporting:
Last year, when the Oregon Board of Pharmacy declared that pseudoephedrine could only be sold from behind pharmacy counters, it was considered a radical policy. Today, Ginny Burdick, a Democratic state senator, says the rule didn't go far enough. Burdick says meth cooks can still get the pseudoephedrine they need in stores like this Salem Wal-Mart.
Unidentified Woman #1: Hello.
Unidentified Woman #2: Hi.
Unidentified Woman #1: I'd like two of those.
FOGARTY: This week, Senator Burdick and three other state legislators went to this store and others collecting cold medicines, a process known to meth cooks as smurfing. Even with the behind-the-counter regulations, Burdick says the four of them gathered enough pseudoephedrine in one hour to keep an addict high for several months.
State Senator GINNY BURDICK (Democrat, Oregon): You know, people are saying it'd be just as effective to put it behind the counter and not require a prescription, and we proved without any doubt that that is just not so.
FOGARTY: Burdick is backing House Bill 2485 to smack a prescription-only label on all pseudoephedrine products. The bill has the support of pro business Republicans like state Representative Dennis Richardson. He says Oregon's rate of meth addiction is among the highest in the nation so the inconvenience for consumers is not too much to ask.
State Representative DENNIS RICHARDSON (Republican, Oregon): Fighting this war on meth requires a certain amount of sacrifice from all of us. Where drastic circumstances exist, drastic measures have to be taken.
FOGARTY: But Julie Lux, with the drug company Schering-Plough, asks why such drastic measures should apply to law-abiding people with colds and allergies.
Ms. JULIE LUX (Schering-Plough): Making it a prescription certainly will inconvenience consumers and, ultimately, it's the consumers who should have the choice.
FOGARTY: Lux's company, which makes the decongestant Claritin-D, even took out radio ads in Portland.
(Soundbite from radio ad)
Unidentified Woman #3: ...will make Oregon the only state that requires a prescription for popular over-the-counter medicines, like Theraflu, Claritin-D...
FOGARTY: But the drug industry is not speaking with one voice. Some firms have developed cold remedies with no pseudoephedrine. Sudafed PE, for example, contains phenylephrine, another decongestant that can't be converted into meth. Rob Bovett with the Oregon Narcotics Association says stiff regulations in states like Oregon are driving that trend.
Mr. ROB BOVETT (Oregon Narcotics Association): And it's unfortunate that some of the pharmaceuticals didn't read the handwriting on the wall and wound up, you know, getting caught, you know, not ready to switch over to phenylephrine and losing their market share. If you ask me to feel bad for 'em, I guess I just can't because they made a whole lot of money off a diverted pseudoephedrine over the last 10 to 15 years.
FOGARTY: Bovett cites one study commissioned by the Drug Enforcement Administration that found that of all the pseudoephedrine sold in Portland convenience stores in 2001, 70 percent went not to cold sufferers, but to meth cooks. Spurred by such statistics, the Oregon House of Representatives voted 55-to-4 in favor of the prescription-only bill. The state Senate expects to pass it next week. Meanwhile, Congress is considering a national standard for pseudoephedrine sales. Lawmakers in Oregon and other states hope any federal law, which could pre-empt state laws, won't weaken their strategies. For NPR News, I'm Colin Fogarty in Salem, Oregon.
WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.