Some see cold medicine limit as tool in drug war

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2004

Ten states have passed laws limiting the purchases of certaincold medicines in an effort to curb the manufacture ofmethamphetamines, and Mississippi may soon join the effort.

District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett said he intends to sponsorlegislation during the next session of Congress that would makeMississippi the 11th state to take this additional step in the waron drugs.

The Mississippi law would be similar to those passed in otherstates, which would be used as guidelines, he said. Those statesall limit the number of packages that can be sold in a single sale.Additionally, some have other requirements, such as mandating thedrugs be kept behind the counter.

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Barnett said he expected little opposition to the proposal.

Barnett admitted he had not polled the local retailers to seehow many were voluntarily limiting sales, but he expressed concernthat some retailers would not abide by any restricting agreementswithout a law.

“The business people will not do that because they like to sellthings,” Barnett said.

Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Capt. Mike Aldridge said hewould probably support a law limiting the sale of the products.

“Any time it becomes more difficult for them to acquireprecursor chemicals, it helps us and we appreciate that,” he said.”Unfortunately, you can’t do that for all of the precursors”because they are all common household items.

At the source of the legislation is pseudo-ephedrine, aningredient in many over-the-counter cold medicines that amateurchemists use to make methamphetamines in volatile and toxiclabs.

“I would have to say (meth use) is still on the rise,” Aldridgesaid. “It’s still a major problem in the state.”

Aldridge said one law already on the books attempted to addressthe problem. Known informally as the Precursor Law, it states thepossession of more than 250 pills containing pseudo-ephedrine ormore than 15 grams of the same substance is a misdemeanoroffense.

“It sounds like the state already attempted to address theproblem,” said District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak. “I wouldn’t mindlooking at (a limiting law), but I don’t want to make it criminalon the retailers.”

Moak said he would prefer retailers voluntarily limit their saleof the potentially abused drugs.

“They run their own shops and they know their own customers byand large,” he said. “If they think there may be a problem, theyhave their own ways they can address it.”

Many already do. Most local retailers limit the amount ofpseudo-ephedrine products they sell by controlling the number ofpackages in a single sale or by keeping only a few packages ondisplay at a time.

Some, such as Dollar General, display the medicine in open viewbut keep it under lock and key. Others, such as Super D Drugs andRite Aid Pharmacies, keep the drugs behind the counter as a controlfactor.

Local pharmacists offer differing opinions of the proposedlaw.

“I think it would be kind of pointless unless all types ofstores were regulated,” said Clint Bane of Bane’s Drugs. “Whyshould grocery stores and convenience stores be able to sell asmuch as they like and not drug stores? It would have to be astatewide, all-encompassing regulation.”

Bane said his store did not limit their sales of the products,but they only kept a few on the shelves at a time.

“We haven’t noticed a problem with it,” he said. “We keep an eyeon it and try to notice any trends among customers.”

LaRue Baker of LaRue’s Discount Drugs has a similar policy.Citing the precursor law, he questioned whether another law wouldreally be of much help in preventing the manufacture ofmethamphetamines.

“You can overdo the laws,” he said. “There are too many laws ingeneral now to try to enforce them all.”

Robert Watts of Robert Watts Pharmacy said most retailers arealready doing what they can to limit the sale of potentially abuseddrugs.

“Most independents don’t keep but a few boxes of each brand onthe shelf,” he said. “I don’t know where they (drug abusers) canbuy the large amounts they need.”

He added that he would support a law limiting the products’ salein bulk. However, rather than a state law that would make the salecriminal, he would prefer the state Board of Pharmacy issue aregulation to that effect.

The Board of Pharmacy controls licensing and a violation of itsregulations can result in the loss of license allowing pharmaciststo practice.