In 2006, the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act became effective across the nation, setting restrictions on the retail sale of cold medicines and other products containing pseudoephedrine.
The law requires these products to be kept behind the pharmacy counter. Buyers must show their photo ID and can only purchase a 30-day supply. The transaction is tracked and kept on file for at least two years to prevent people from skirting the law by purchasing small quantities of the drug at multiple stores.
“Before that was done, all those items that we [now] place under lock and key, they were being stolen daily—loaded backpacks, duffle bags,” a manager at a major supermarket/pharmacy chain in Nassau County who wishes to remain anonymous tells the Press. “It was obvious what it was going to be used for.”
“The stealing has stopped because the access is in the pharmacy now,” he continues. “Now you can tell who the drug addicts are because they are stealing other items that they can quickly sell for cash.”
Some states are even considering bills that would require a doctor’s prescription for popular decongestants containing pseudoephedrine. Mississippi and Oregon already require prescriptions for these products. But many companies are trying to avoid this rule by taking another route.
“Because of changes to federal legislation, products that contain the decongestant pseudoephedrine HCl cannot be sold over-the counter, causing many leading brands to reformulate their cold, allergy, and sinus products,” said Tylenol in a statement. “Most of our over-the-counter products containing pseudoephedrine are being discontinued.”
Many of Tylenol’s products have undergone name changes to reflect this policy and contain other decongestants—that cannot be used in meth production—in place of pseudoephedrine. All of these measures have resulted in a significant decrease in pseudoephedrine purchases and thefts, the manager says.
“Addicts always find other ways if they really want to,” he says. “But if you saw the amounts being stolen in some of our stores [before], there is no way it hasn’t helped at least a little.”
In 2004, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), alarmed by reports that meth seizures in New York had surged 31 percent since the prior year, announced his plans to sharply increase penalties for dealing the drug and to get the state millions of dollars in federal funds for meth education, prevention and treatment. He compared the emergence of meth to the crack epidemic of the ’80s.
“Twenty years ago, crack was headed east across the United States like a Mack truck out of control, and it slammed New York hard because we just didn’t see the warning signs,” Schumer told the media from the steps of DEA headquarters in Manhattan. “Well, the headlights are glaring bright off in the distance again, this time with meth. We are still paying the price of missing the warning signs back then, and if we don’t remember our history, we will be doomed to repeat it.”
Schumer said he was shocked when his staff ran an Internet search for “how to make crystal meth” and got 55,200 hits. Today, that same search yields 750,000 hits.
“We tend to say, ‘All right, so heroin is on the scene,’ and we wait 10 years before we acknowledge it’s a problem,” says Reynolds. “Then we quickly throw together these two-hour heroin forums—and then another drug pops up and then we just go putting out fires.
“It’s like whack-a-mole,” he continues. “Unless you begin dealing with the core reasons why kids and adults use drugs, we’re shoveling against the tide. We have to teach elementary school kids about decision-making and peer pressure and self-esteem and all those core competencies that are going to serve you well—no matter what the next drug du jour is.”