Cold Medicines Targeted in Meth Crackdown

New restrictions on medicines containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine go into effect this week, part of a federal crackdown on those who use these medicines to create methamphetamine. Consumers will now have to pick up those medicines at the pharmacist window, show a picture identification and sign a logbook.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Beginning this weekend, if you have a cold, you'll have to get your drugs behind the counter. You'll also have to show photo ID and sign a logbook. That's if you want any medication like Sudafed or Claritin D, drugs that contain pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. Those ingredients are used to make methamphetamine. NPR's Alex Cohen has more.

ALEX COHEN: I'd like to buy some Sudafed please.

Unidentified Woman: May I please see your ID?

COHEN: Sure.

That's me at my local pharmacy in Austin, Texas, where a clerk makes sure I have my driver's license before she goes to the back to get a box of cold medicine. She returns with the goods and a blue, three-ring binder.

Unidentified Woman: All right, one box of Sudafed. I just need you to date and sign here and print your name, please.

COHEN: Texas is one of many states that already requires customers to show photo ID and sign before buying drugs containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. When the new federal regulations take effect Saturday, every retailer in every state will have to do the same, and keep such medications locked up or behind the counter. Consumers will also be limited to 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine per day. Susan Bishop is the director of regulatory affairs for the American Pharmacists Association.

Ms. SUSAN BISHOP (Director Regulatory Affairs, American Pharmacists Association): If you're looking at a drug that contains pseudoephedrine and one of the stronger strengths, you could buy up to 36 caplets at one time.

COHEN: Theoretically, limiting purchase amounts will prevent people from hording pills to cook batches of methamphetamine. In Oklahoma, the first state to ban over the counter sales of drugs with pseudoephedrine, meth lab seizures have dropped by 90 percent. But, Bishop says, meth labs may not be the only ones thwarted by such rules.

Ms. BISHOP: A parent that goes into a pharmacy and wants to buy a product to treat her cold and also wants to buy a product to treat her child's cold, they would obviously need two different strengths and the limitations could affect how much an individual could purchase.

COHEN: They also voice concerns that the new rules could create long wait lines at the pharmacy counter. Kerri Houston of the conservative think tank Frontiers of Freedom says she's worried how far addicts will go to make their own methamphetamine.

Ms. KERRI HOUSTON (Frontiers of Freedom): Many pharmacists have expressed to me their fears they're going to see a gun in their face and people demanding cold products so that they can go off and make them in the home grown meth labs.

COHEN: And she adds, the new regulations do nothing to combat the import of meth from south of the border. In recent years, some states have seen the import of meth from Mexico increase by 500 percent. Alex Cohen, NPR News.

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