Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jan 2005
Source: Messenger-Inquirer (KY)
Copyright: 2005 Messenger-Inquirer
Author: Kelly Kurt, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


State Locks Up Supplies Of Pseudoephedrine

TULSA, Okla. -- After years of locking up methamphetamine makers only to 
see illegal drug labs multiply on urban stovetops and country roads, 
Oklahoma got tough.

It locked up the meth makers' cold medicine.

The state banned over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and other decongestants 
used to produce meth and ordered that the medicines be placed behind 
pharmacy counters. Ten months later, meth lab seizures in Oklahoma are down 
more than 80 percent.

State officials believe many clandestine cooks have closed their kitchens 
because of the crackdown on pseudoephedrine.

"To see the sort of diminution we've seen, there is absolutely no other 
reason," said Lonnie Wright, who heads Oklahoma's drug agency.

Now, other states are looking to lock up their pseudo-ephedrine, too.

Oklahoma and several other states have limited the amount of 
pseudoephedrine customers can buy at one time, but Oklahoma went further by 
requiring that the drug be dispensed by a pharmacist. Customers do not need 
a prescription for pseudoephedrine, but they have to produce ID and sign 
for the drug.

Oklahoma averaged 105 meth lab busts a month before the law took effect 
last April. By November, the number had dropped to 19.

Those numbers persuaded Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon to push for a 
similar measure there.

"This is a relatively small discomfort for the public," said Nixon, whose 
state limited how much pseudoephedrine a customer could buy, only to see 
the number of labs surge.

In Oklahoma, pseudoephedrine can no longer be sold in groceries and 
convenience stores. Signs on empty drugstore shelves direct people looking 
for relief from stuffy heads to the pharmacist. The law applies only to 
pills containing pseudoephedrine. Gel and liquid forms, which normally are 
not used to make meth, are still available over the counter.

Some people grumble when told they will have to show ID, said Jim Brown, 
owner of Freeland-Brown Pharmacy in Tulsa.

"But when you tell them why," he said, "they really don't object."

Meth-making has left ugly scars on communities large and small in Oklahoma. 
Children have been found playing among the volatile and highly toxic waste 
of their parents' drug making. Addicts haunt farmland, looking to steal 
anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, which they use to convert pseudoephedrine 
into a potent high.

Oklahoma's law bears the names of three state troopers killed in 
confrontations with suspected meth users. Among them was Nik Green, who 
used to weep over the people he had arrested who were caught in meth's iron 
grip, his widow said.

"He said, 'I really feel like this is one of Satan's tools,' " said Linda 
Green, who helped push for the law after Green was shot while investigating 
a suspicious vehicle on a rural road.

Along with legislators in Missouri, lawmakers in neighboring Arkansas, 
Kansas and Texas also are looking to restrict over-the-counter pseudoephedrine.

"When you see Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Texas get on board with the 
controls, I think you'll see Oklahoma's numbers drop again," said Tom 
Cunningham, drug task force coordinator for the Oklahoma District Attorneys 

Politicians in Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, 
Connecticut, Georgia and Tennessee have also pushed for laws requiring 
pharmacists to dispense pseudoephedrine or will be considering such 
legislation this year.

Oregon's pharmacy board in October approved restrictions patterned on the 
Oklahoma law. And Illinois began requiring stores this month to lock 
pseudoephedrine tablets in cabinets or behind counters.

Pfizer Inc., the maker of Sudafed, does not oppose restrictions on the 
medication, said spokesman Jay Kosminsky. "Every state has got to get the 
balance right between access to legitimate consumers and preventing access 
to criminals," he said.

But the company believes it is possible to secure the drug in groceries and 
other stores, not just pharmacies, he said. Meanwhile, Pfizer plans this 
month to introduce a new form of Sudafed made without pseudoephedrine.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores does not necessarily believe 
the Oklahoma law is the way to go, said Mary Ann Wagner, vice president of 
pharmacy regulatory affairs. She said customers miss out on hundreds of 
pseudoephedrine products that cannot be displayed behind the pharmacy counter.

The group believes the law's apparent success may have more to do with 
impeding backdoor sales of cases of pseudoephedrine by rogue retailers, she 

The head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has referred to 
Oklahoma's "hard-hitting" law in urging states to fight small labs. But a 
spokesman said the agency wants more data before drawing conclusions about 
the approach.
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