Wishy-washy law makes sick people suffer

Nov. 15, 2006, midnight | By Iliya Smithka | 17 years, 6 months ago

"Combat Meth Act" restricts access to cold medicine

Last March, President Bush signed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) into law as part of the Patriot Act. Pharmaceutical drugs containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine (PSE) and phenylpropanolamine (PPA), common decongestants found in Sudafed and Claritin-D, are now available only behind the counter in your neighborhood drugstore, and require photo identification to purchase. The law's intent, according to the Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis, is to regulate the sale of drugs used to make methamphetamine or amphetamine, both addictive and dangerous drugs. But instead of stopping meth addicts from mixing their brew, the CMEA harasses customers with the common cold.

The CMEA also limits the amount of drugs like Sudafed a person can purchase in a time period to 3.6 grams per day and nine grams per month. A box of 15 tablets of Non-Drowsy 24-Hour Claritin-D contains exactly 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine sulfate, with 240 milligrams in each tablet. Anyone who wants to buy medicine containing ephedrine, PSA or PPA must present a photo ID and sign a logbook with her name, address, date and time of sale. The logbooks prevent customers from buying repeatedly at the same store, but they are not shared between stores, so a meth addict could easily circumvent the system.

If someone has a prescription for ephedrine, PSE or PPA, he can fill his prescription following his doctor's instructions. But when you only have a cold that could be fought with Sudafed or Claritin-D, getting and going to a doctor's appointment, paying he co-pay and filling a prescription is just a hassle. Of course by the time you've scheduled your appointment, you could have infected your entire family, class or workplace, since you didn't have Sudafed.

The CMEA makes getting cold medicine a lengthy, annoying process: going to a drugstore, presenting ID, logging your purchase and then being restricted to three boxes of Claritin-D for a month. People who suffer from allergies need more than that many decongestants. Though written with good intentions, the CMEA is a wishy-washy way of trying to prevent meth-heads from getting the drugs they need to make their methamphetamine.

If the US were to make PSE "prescription only" again, it could clear up a lot of the confusion customers and stores must deal with every time someone wants to cure his cold. In New Zealand, ephedrine and PSE are prescription-only drugs. In July, Oregon passed a law that makes drugs containing PSE obtainable by prescription only. The US needs to jump aboard the "prescription only" bandwagon and should rethink a law that doesn't impede meth production but does make it harder for customers with legitimate colds and allergies to acquire medicine.

Iliya Smithka. Iliya Smithka will graduate from neither the CAP nor the Magnet Program. However, she somehow managed to get a decent education. While representing no particular program during her stint on Silver Chips Online, Iliya was a spectacular staff writer, although she never really mastered the … More »

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