Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jan 2004
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2004 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Molly Parker
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
(Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act)


Pseudoephedrine Used In Illegal Drug

SPRINGFIELD -- Responding to the growing use of over-the-counter
medications to make illegal drugs, an increasing number of stores are
restricting access to commonly used cold, sinus and allergy remedies
that contain ingredients of powerfully addictive methamphetamine.

Walgreens, Dominick's, Jewel-Osco, Wal-Mart and CVS Pharmacy are among
large chains that have clamped down on cold-product sales. All now
limit the quantity that a shopper can buy in one transaction, and some
have allowed individual stores to move the remedies off open shelves
and put them behind service counters. The moves are aimed at cracking
down on thefts of such well-known products as Sudafed, Actifed,
Dimetapp Extentabs and other non-prescription decongestants, as well
as at helping law enforcement in the fight against the burgeoning meth

The key ingredient that the illegal meth manufacturing labs have been
extracting from over-the-counter drugs is pseudoephedrine, a
stimulant. Meth can be produced cheaply, and it produces a euphoric
high that can last for days--much longer than the high associated with
cocaine, authorities said.

"Methamphetamine is the fastest-growing drug problem in the country,"
said Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, who plans to seek legislation
that would limit the sale of products with pseudoephedrine.

In 1997, state police raided 24 meth labs in Illinois. Five years
later, the number hit 677. During that time, only one raided lab was
in Cook County.

As methamphetamine use swells, particularly in rural areas, retailers
face the vexing question of how to strike a balance between preserving
the easy availability of common products and acting to deter their
conversion into illegal drugs.

Authorities said meth manufacturers send accomplices, whom police
refer to as smurfs, into stores to steal or buy large quantities of
pseudoephedrine products. Increasingly, authorities said, Downstate
meth makers are sending smurfs into the Chicago area, where the
concentration of stores is higher.

Under voluntary programs, big chains in Illinois have limited sales of
cold and allergy tablets containing pseudoephedrine to three packages
per customer. Madigan wants the state to impose mandatory limits, and
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is working for additional federal

Officials press stores

Officials in some Downstate communities have been pressing retailers
to participate in a crackdown.

Last fall in Decatur, police asked stores that sell cold medicines
containing pseudoephedrine to deter thefts by keeping them behind a
counter, in a locked case or near a checkout aisle. The request came
after police in the central Illinois community said smurfs had been
caught with maps highlighting stores that were prime targets.

The process of making meth from cold tablets is tricky and has
resulted in numerous explosions, fires and injuries. The end result is
a powdered form of pseudoephedrine. The drug produced from it can be
smoked, snorted or injected into a vein.

Typically, a person can get high on as little as one-third of a gram
of meth but may use more to keep the high going for several days.

Pseudoephedrine is "like the flour for the bread. If you don't have
the flour, you don't have the bread," said Tom McNamara, director of a
multicounty narcotics group in far southern Illinois.

Arkansas, California, Missouri, Oregon and Washington are among states
that have clamped down on sales of products containing
pseudoephedrine, with Missouri last year making it a misdemeanor for
stores to sell customers more than two packages at a time of such
products. Meanwhile, Iowa's drug czar is pressing to force all such
products behind store counters.

'Getting worse and worse'

"It's just getting worse and worse, and it's really getting at younger
and younger people," said Craig Campbell, senior policy adviser for
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. "It's cheaper, it's purer, and you get a
better high."

Big pharmaceutical companies have expressed reservations about the

"Putting them behind the counter really hurts access of consumers to
the product," said Jay Kosminsky, a spokesman for Pfizer, the maker of

Donna Edenhart, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Healthcare Products
Association, an industry lobbying group, said, "We believe that
education, not legislation, is the way to solve the meth problem in
the United States."

Authorities said the crackdown in Missouri has driven an increasing
number of smurfs to raid store shelves in Illinois.

Earlier this month, Hy-Vee Foods, a food and drugstore chain based in
Des Moines with stores in northwestern and central Illinois, removed
18 products from store shelves and put them behind service counters.

Hy-Vee customers are now limited to buying two packages of
pseudoephedrine products per visit. Anyone buying any of the 18 drugs
must provide his or her signature to the store, said Hy-Vee
spokeswoman Ruth Mitchell.

"We've had a tremendous problem with theft," Mitchell

In recent months at Jewel-Osco, at least one store in Chicago and one
in Springfield have taken Sudafed and other pseudoephedrine products
off their shelves and put them behind counters. In Springfield a sign
at one store directed customers: "See camera clerk for all Sudafed

Wal-Mart was among the first of the major chains to limit
cold-medicine sales. Not only are pseudoephedrine products limited to
three packages a customer, but sales of lithium batteries, which
contain another meth ingredient, are also limited to four packs per
customer, according to a company spokeswoman.

Broad action needed

But the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy said restrictions
on the sale of common decongestants will not by themselves end the

"Simply limiting access to cold medication is not going to cut it,"
said Scott Burns, the deputy director who oversees state and local
policies in the federal office. "There has to be education, there has
to be prevention, there has to be law enforcement, and the business
community and citizens have to all come together as a community, or
they're kidding themselves."
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