Pubdate: Mon, 05 Dec 2005
Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Marin Independent Journal
Author: Richard Halstead
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Margaret Schaub of Novato became frantic recently when she failed to 
find the chewable cold remedy that her sick 9-year-old son needed at 
Albertsons Food & Drug in Novato.

"I thought, 'My God, they don't make it anymore.'"

Schaub then went to a Longs Drug Store. She found a plastic facsimile 
of the product on the shelf along with a note explaining that this 
and other products containing the decongestant pseudoephedrine were 
being kept behind the pharmacy counter.

"Thank God I went there when the pharmacy was open," Schaub said. "If 
you're a freaked-out parent with a sick child with a 103-degree 
temperature, you just want the medicine."

With the winter cold and flu season looming, plenty of Marin 
residents are likely to share Schaub's surprise. Most Marin retailers 
selling cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine have 
placed the products behind the counter.

The retailers have taken the action voluntarily as legislators in 
Washington D.C. deliberate over whether to mandate stricter 
regulation of the decongestant. Pseudoephedrine can be used to 
manufacture methamphetamine, which has become a national scourge.

Albertsons, Longs, Safeway, Rite-Aid, Walgreens and Target have put 
medicines containing pseudoephedrine in their pharmacies. California 
law limits sales to 9 grams, or about three packages.

The pharmacist at Albertsons' Sav-On pharmacy in Larkspur, Ron 
Robertson, said he limits his sales to two packets containing 24 pills each.

"That's just my policy," Robertson said.

Robertson said none of his customers have complained about keeping 
the medications behind the counter.

"As long as you have it in stock, they've been happy to find it," 
Robertson said.

There is at least one retailer in Marin that has left some products 
containing pseudoephedrine on its shelves. Costco has put products 
containing only pseudoephedrine behind the counter. But it has left 
out several combination products, including Advil Cold and Sinus, 
Claritin D, a private label version of Claritin D and Drexoral, said 
a Costco buyer, Susan Hudson.

Legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, 
would limit sales to 7.5 grams a month, or about 250 pills. The bill 
would mandate that products containing pseudoephedrine be put behind 
pharmacy counters. It would also require purchasers to show 
identification and sign a register at the pharmacy counter.

Feinstein's bill was approved unanimously by the Senate in September. 
A House of Representatives version of the bill stalled. Some members 
of the House resisted the idea of monthly limits on purchases. There 
is still a chance, however, that tighter federal restrictions could 
be approved by the full Congress before the end of the year.

"There is an effort to see that a compromise version of the bill gets 
in the Patriot Act reauthorization, which is going to be discussed 
when Congress gets back into session the second week of December," 
said a spokesman for Feinstein, Scott Gerber.

"There are larger issues with the Patriot Act," Gerber said. "As far 
as I know, they haven't been resolved yet."

In Oklahoma and Iowa, where a similar law was adopted, "they saw an 
immediate 80 percent drop in meth labs used," Gerber said.

According to a 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 
12 million Americans age 12 and older said they had tried 
methamphetamine at least once. That was an increase of 156 percent 
from 1996. Over time, methamphetamine appears to cause reduced levels 
of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can result in symptoms like 
those of Parkinson's disease, a severe movement disorder.

Other common ingredients often used in making methamphetamine 
include: red phosphorous, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery 
acid, lye, lantern fuel and antifreeze. A pound of meth valued at 
more than $1,000 on the street can be produced for less than $100, 
according to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. For 
every pound of meth that is cooked in crude labs, experts say 5 to 7 
pounds of toxic waste are produced.

Marin County sheriff's Detective Jamie Scardina said the county's 
drug task force has conducted more than 100 methamphetamine 
investigations since January and busted three meth labs over the past 
two years.

Scardina said the state law limiting the size of pseudoephedrine 
purchases has already made it tougher for meth cooks.

"It takes about 12,000 tablets to produce one pound of meth," 
Scardina said. "That's a lot of trips to the drug store to buy three packets."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman