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Old 11-19-2004, 02:14 PM
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Default Restrictions now in effect for the sale of certain cold remedies

Restrictions now in effect for the sale of certain cold remedies

By Steve Card Of the News-Times

Consumers looking to purchase certain over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine are seeing changes this week in how those products are being sold.

Monday was the first day for new restrictions on some medications containing pseudoephedrine. This is the chemical found in such popular cold and allergy medicines as Sudafed and Claritin-D. But it is also a key ingredient used to manufacture methamphetamine.

In early October, as part of the state's fight against meth, Governor Ted Kulongoski asked the Oregon Board of Pharmacy to enact an emergency administrative rule restricting the sales of pseudoephedrine in the tablet form. Liquid and gel-cap products containing pseudoephedrine are not included under the restrictions because these products are very difficult to convert to methamphetamine.

Rob Bovett is assistant legal counsel for Lincoln County, but he is also legal counsel for the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association, and in that role, he has been heavily involved in fighting the meth epidemic.

The pharmacy board's temporary rule that took effect this week lasts for 180 days, said Bovett. But before that 180 days expires, there should be a permanent rule in place. "We've already started proceedings for a permanent rule from the pharmacy board," he said.

The temporary rule requires that all of the single-entity products - those with pseudoephedrine as the only active ingredient - be placed behind pharmacy counters. Anyone wanting to buy any these products must present a photo ID prior to purchase.

The other classification of drugs containing pseudoephedrine are the "combo products," Bovett said, which have pseudoephedrine as an active ingredient but also contain something else. An example of this would be Actifed. These combo products need to be placed behind "some counter," said Bovett, but it does not have to be a pharmacy counter. "So, those can technically stay in convenience stores and grocery stores without a pharmacy."

Once the permanent rule is in place, these combo products may also be required to be placed behind a pharmacy counter, and the seller may be required to document sales, rather than simply asking for a photo ID, "but we don't know yet," said Bovett. He reiterated that "the gel caps and the liquids are exempt from the regulations, so those can stay out on all the shelves."

Bovett said the plan for a permanent rule restricting sales of these products is being met with "a lot of resistance from the upper levels of the Oregon Grocers Association and some level of resistance from the pharmaceutical lobbyists as well." He anticipates this will be an on-going battle in the coming months, both at the pharmacy board and at the Oregon Legislature when it goes into session next year.

But the state of Oklahoma imposed similar sales restrictions earlier this year, and the results have been dramatic. In the first six months after the restrictions were implemented, Oklahoma saw up to a 70 percent reduction in meth labs in many areas of that state. Bovett added that a hotline was set up in Oklahoma to field complaints from consumers over the restrictions in sales. "They've had zero complaints from the consumers," he said. "It's hard to argue with what has actually happened on the ground in Oklahoma."

The decrease in the number of meth labs in Oregon may not be quite so dramatic, admitted Bovett, because "we watered down the rule in a couple of ways." In Oklahoma, both the single-entity products and the combo products were placed behind the pharmacy counter, and documentation of all purchases was required. "I have a strong feeling that those two elements played a key role in the massive decline in Oklahoma," Bovett said. "That's why we're looking at a permanent rule with those two elements."

And if pseudoephedrine - a key ingredient in the meth-manufacturing process - is no longer readily available to drug makers in Oregon, neighboring states could feel the effect. Bovett said he recently returned from a national meth conference in Minnesota, "and I think Washington (state) is getting a little nervous about it, and I think they have a legitimate reason to be." When Oklahoma started restricting sales of these products, "Texas and Kansas meth lab stats started to skyrocket at the same time that Oklahoma's declined ... so it could create a ripple effect out here on the west coast."

The change has been a long time coming in Oregon. In 2001, Bovett proposed this legislation on behalf of ONEA to state lawmakers, but "we didn't even see the light of day." He proposed it again in 2003, and this time there was at least a draft bill approved, "but out of 90 legislators, I was able to convince two."

The momentum gained through Oklahoma's success has altered the picture, however, and last month's urging by Kulongoski to restrict sales in Oregon has gotten the ball rolling. Meth lab statistics are compiled nationwide by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and although there will naturally be some lag time, "probably early next year we'll start to see some of the immediate impacts," said Bovett.
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