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US Senate Advances Bill to Limit Access to Cold Medicines

The US Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved the “Combat Meth Bill” – a bill to limit access to common-cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, according to a report by Reuters. Pseudoephedrine is used to make the highly addictive illegal drug methamphetamine or “meth”.

The bipartisan bill now moves to the full Senate, and a House of Representatives subcommittee has received a similar bill to consider.

Methamphetamine use among young people has soared in the past few years. Recently, Bush administration officials and law-enforcement personnel testified before Congress that methamphetamine addiction – once primarily confined to rural areas and western regions of the US, has rapidly spread across the entire nation, now affecting urban and suburban areas.

According to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, methamphetamine is now a greater danger than marijuana to young people in the US.

The recent legislation was sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) and Senator Jim Talent (R-Missouri).

What the Changes Mean

Changes effected by the legislation would include moving pseudoephedrine-containing cold medicines (e.g., Sudafed, NyQuil and Tylenol Cold) behind pharmacy counters. They would also limit an individual’s purchases to 7.5 grams per month (approximately 250 x 30-milligram tablets).

To prevent customers from making purchases at more than one store, customers will be required to present photo ID and sign a log, and a computer tracking system may be used to track purchases.

The proposed legislation is modeled on an Oklahoma law that has also been copied by several other states and that has reduced the number of methamphetamine labs seized by authorities.

The Feinstein-Talent measure spent several weeks stalled in committee because of concerns that it could interfere with states enacting their existing rules on cold-medicine sales, according to an Associated Press report on Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) voiced concerns that it could interfere with his state’s rules.

The Judiciary Committee subsequently passed an amendment permitting individual states to enforce their existing laws, as long they were at least as strong as the bill’s requirements.

"Today is a good day in the fight against methamphetamines. We’re one step closer to enacting a national meth bill that would put thousands of meth labs out of business," said Feinstein, according to Reuters. Senator Feinstein hopes the Senate will pass the act this September.

Methamphetamine is manufactured in so-called “superlabs”, primarily in Mexico and California, although smaller operations exist in homes or hotel rooms. The drug is made using household and agricultural chemicals and cold medicines, and recipes are easily available on the Internet. Not only is the drug highly addictive, but also its production creates toxic, environmentally damaging waste-products that are costly to clean up.

A recent survey of law-enforcement organizations, conducted by the National Association of Counties, reveals that 58% of county law-enforcement agencies now see meth as their primary drug problem.

Senate advances bill to restrict cold medicines, Reuters, 28 July 2005.
Anti-methamphetamine bill advances, Associated Press/, 29 July 2005.

Posted: August 2005