Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jan 2006
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2006, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard
Section: A 1
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine - Canada)


Corner stores and grocery stores without pharmacies across Canada have
been ordered to stop selling a wide range of cold and allergy
medications because they contain active ingredients that can be used
to make the street drug crystal meth.

The ban, which takes effect on April 10, does not apply to pharmacies.
But some of the strongest cold and allergy medications -- those most
in demand by clandestine drug labs -- will be moved behind the counter
and not be available without consulting a pharmacist.

"The idea is to balance the availability of these products with the
risk of retail diversion for illicit purposes," said Ken Potvin,
executive director of the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory
Authorities, a group that effectively decides where prescription and
non-prescription drugs can be sold.

"We think the public will understand this small inconvenience."

Manufacturers of these popular medications and stores that sell them,
however, are miffed.

"What we're seeing is the application of a solution to a problem that,
frankly, we don't have," said Gerry Harrington, director of public
affairs at the Non-Prescription Drug Manufacturers Association of Canada.

"We don't believe there should be any retail restrictions on these

Pharmacies have been struggling for several years to find a way to
deal with the problem. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have already
restricted the sales of some of the products to behind the counter.

The new rules apply to all drugs containing ephedrine and
pseudoephedrine. Annual sales of these drugs exceed $200-million in

Products that contain these elements as a single ingredient will be
sold only behind the counter at pharmacies.

Among the 17 products affected are Sudafed Decongestant 12-hour
caplets and non-drowsy Contac Cold 12-hour.

All cold, cough and allergy medications that contain multiple
ingredients including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine will be sold only
in pharmacies.

This category includes hundreds of products, such as big sellers like
Benylin, Tylenol Cold, Triaminic and Claritin Sinus.

Gary Sands, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent
Grocers, said the decision to pull the products from only some stores
makes no sense. "If these products are really a problem, then why not
put them all behind the counter? I just don't understand why you won't
be able to buy cold and cough remedies in the grocery store but you
will be able to buy them off the shelf in the pharmacy."

Mr. Sands said while urban dwellers will simply have to shop elsewhere
for their cold and allergy medications, those in rural and northern
communities -- where pharmacies are harder to find -- will be most
affected by the new regulations.

Crystal meth -- which is also known as speed or crank -- can be easily
manufactured with a combination of fertilizer, cold medication and
sometimes products that contain ephedrine and are sold in health food

In Canada, most crystal meth is manufactured in large labs controlled
by biker gangs, who divert large quantities of the active ingredients
from drug companies.

In the United States, where commercial supplies have been choked off,
it is much more common to find home labs that make speed in small
quantities using cold and allergy medications bought or stolen from
retail stores.

Mr. Harrington said that only three dozen home meth labs were found in
Canada in the past five years. The number for the United States in
that period is 10,000.

"This is a knee-jerk response to an American problem," he said. But he
said what was most concerning was the precedent of NAPRA -- a group
whose primary concern is supposed to be the pharmacological safety of
drugs -- wading into law enforcement and losing sight of the fact that
the vast majority of consumers use these drugs responsibly and

"Dealing with the serious problem of crystal meth requires an
understanding of criminal behaviour patterns and black market
economics, areas where this committee has no expertise," Mr.
Harrington said.

Mr. Potvin of NAPRA acknowledged that this is "not the usual
application of our drug schedule," but said it was legitimate for
regulators to be concerned about the potential for drugs to be abused
and take counter measures.

He added that while home crystal meth labs may not be common in
Canada, regulators can and should be proactive. "This is a preventive
measure but it still allows the public broad access to these very
effective products," Mr. Potvin said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin