Does treating everyone like a criminal solve anything?
February 4, 2010 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Has the effort to regulate the sale of OTC medications containing pseudoephedrine actually led to a drop in methamphetamine manufacture/sale in the US?

Every time I go to the store to buy the only cold medicine (12 hour Sudafed) that seems to work for me I feel like I'm being treated like a criminal, having to present ID, sign a form, etc. I know that the restriction on how much you can buy and all that have been in place for years due to a knee-jerk reaction to the explosion of meth. So, I am interested in knowing what effect the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 has had on methamphetamine manufacture in the US. I've seen anectodotal evidence that similar measures in Mexico haven't slowed the major players in meth production in there, but I have not had much luck in finding similar information on US manufacture/sales.
posted by ganzhimself to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IIRC, the book Methland by Nick Reding said that regulations have made a significant impact on small-scale meth producers, and that the number of different people producing meth has dropped significantly. However, the slack has largely been taken up by large-scale drug cartels in Mexico, who buy pseudoephedrine in bulk from China, something that is not regulated in Mexico. This is off the top of my head, because I'm at work and the book is at home, but I think my memory's close.
posted by epj at 8:05 AM on February 4, 2010

I think there are worse ways criminals are treated than being asked for a driver's license and a signature by a retail employee because federal law requires them too.

The sixth paragraph on down in this article answers your question.

posted by asockpuppet at 8:07 AM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: In many ways I can understand regulation of "precursor" items, such as cold medicine, but when law abiding citizens are forced to register for the purpose of being tracked in a database, I wonder what's next...

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for getting the stuff off our streets, especially when the manufacture of it is incredibly toxic to the environment, it poses a huge risk to LEOs who have to go in and bust up the operations, and, of course the drug generally destroys the lives of those addicted to it. I am, however, genuinely curious as to whether or not it's working, and as asockpuppet shared, it doesn't seem to be working in some of the hot bed areas. I suspect that the people who cook the stuff have a network of people who buy the pseudoephederine, thereby skirting the monthly limits. I suppose they could also be resorting to straight up stealing the stuff, much like I know that they go around syphoning ammonia out of tanks on farm fields.

The good news is that I generally only need to buy cold or allergy medicine a few times a year...
posted by ganzhimself at 8:30 AM on February 4, 2010

I believe Oklahoma was the first state to take measures like this, and it resulted in a massive drop in the number of meth labs busted by cops, IIRC somewhere on the order of ninety percent. Everyone else took notice and federal laws were passed. Problem is, drug users and drug makers are a very adaptive bunch. Laws like this had an impact on the individual meth makers because they couldn't just go to Wal-Mart and get a ton of Sudafed. They're starting to figure out ways around this now, it seems.

I agree, though - I hate the whole being made to feel like a criminal when buying the stuff.
posted by azpenguin at 8:36 AM on February 4, 2010

When that was started here, apparently meth lab busts dropped for a year or two. However, now they're back about where they were as the producers find other ways to get what they need.
posted by dilettante at 8:39 AM on February 4, 2010

I suspect that the people who cook the stuff have a network of people who buy the pseudoephederine, thereby skirting the monthly limits.


These are the people on the ass end of methamphetamine manufacture. They have a rotating band of people who hit up pharmacies in a several county area based on who is hitting their monthly limits. They drive hundreds of miles and may or may not be sold to and then get to push out all the pills from blister packs in exchange for meth, cash, sex, narcotics, etc.
posted by asockpuppet at 8:46 AM on February 4, 2010

I would imagine that epj is absolutely correct. Production just moved outside the borders. And possibly to very small scale manufacture that the cops can't detect as easily. It's probably low-risk for the enterprising (and not addicted) cooker to make up a batch from what he can legally get every couple of months. If a dealer has a network of cookers like this and schedules them, he's got a good supply...? And lower risk for the cooker because he can be a one man operation and not have to rely on asockpuppet's smurfs.

And probably moved the theft of pseudo further up the chain, like guns. Why steal it retail when you can get some meth-head to knock off a UPS truck or steal a carton of it from somewhere? No loss to the dealer, just find another meth-head....

(I also believe this restriction was mostly designed to stop people from just sweeping a whole shelf of pseudo into a bag and running like hell. There can't be a lot of profit margin in *buying* the pseudo. Meth is (was?) popular because it was a cheap high, and I don't imagine it can be all that cheap when you have to pay for the precursers like that.)
posted by gjc at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2010

[snarky aside with another perspective ]

You want the "feeling like a criminal" treatment, try buying a dose of "Plan B" emergency contraception. You go through the same rigamarole, but you also have the added zest of not being sure whether the pharmacist you ask for it is going to refuse to give it to you because of a personal objection, and the underlying subtext of hoping to God no one else in line hears that that's what you've asked for because otherwise Strangers Would Be Thinking About You Having Sex.

"Available over the counter" my ass.

[/snarky aside]

Anecdotally, I've heard a lot less about meth in the general news media these days since they instituted the policy, and was always chalking it up to this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I see plenty of vaild reasons to keep the stuff behind the counter, especially to prevent tweakers from just swiping an armfull of the stuff into a bag and running like hell. But requiring an ID and a signature?

I've worked retail and have watched people steal all sorts of OTC meds, and at the small grocery store I worked at, we eventually just pulled all OTCs off the shelf and put it behind the customer service desk and if anyone wanted something they had to ask for it. We didn't make them pay for it right on the spot, we brought it to a register and had it ready for them when they were ready to check out. Of course, in a mega store, like WalMart, that wouldn't work... Maybe during cold/flu season having a dedicated queue for Sudafed purchases would be nice, as there were five people ahead of me that were there for the same thing, two of which did look like questionable and got grilled a little by the pharmacy tech.

And, you bring up a good point EmpressCallipygos... I've heard horror stories about that too. Being as I am not female, I haven't had the [sarcasm] pleasure [/sarcasm] of having to deal with that. But I guess having to go to the counter to get it really "available over the counter," as opposed to "available on the shelf." I also have heard less about meth recently, but that just might be because the cookers have been pushed further to the fringe, making smaller batches less frequently like gjc suggested.
posted by ganzhimself at 10:30 AM on February 4, 2010

It's not that the law treats people with colds and allergies like criminals, it's the fact that it's empowered a million tiny little fiefdoms to treat people with colds and allergies like criminals.

I wouldn't mind presenting ID to buy Claritin-D if the stores/clerks didn't invariably seem to assume you WERE an addict and treat you as such. At least half the drug stores I've been to in the last few years have unilaterally made up their own "additional policies" that they're only obligated to sell you the legal daily limit... once every two weeks. They track this religiously, and seem to take particular glee in making a big show of turning people away if they show up 14 days after your last box purchase instead of 15. And if someone happens to have allergies and catches a cold that requires actual working cold medicine... well, good luck with that!

Oh, and don't expect to actually get the generic equivalent of any of these things, because they're never actually in stock -- though even those prices doubled the day this law went into effect...
posted by Pufferish at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2010

Unsourced anecdote ahead: I heard from a pharmacy worker once that very large men would regularly come into the shop and buy pseudoephedrine by the case, paying in cash. Everybody at the pharmacy knew what it was for, of course, but the men weren't actually breaking any laws, so the purchases went off without incident. Then the law changed. The men stopped buying pseudoephedrine, but the store became the victim of frequent burglaries in which pseudoephedrine was stolen.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:17 PM on February 4, 2010

From my local paper today: "the number of meth labs discovered here last year set a record"
posted by dilettante at 4:52 PM on February 4, 2010

Best answer: From the news:

The number of methamphetamine lab busts rose nationally last year by the greatest margins since lawmakers pushed pseudoephedrine products behind pharmacy counters.

Federal agents believe one of the reasons for the rise in domestic meth labs is Mexico's move last year to ban the importation of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that is meth's main ingredient. The move forced Mexican drug cartels to change the way they make methamphetamine, resulting in a less potent drug. The weak meth from Mexico is driving addicts in the US to want to cook their own again.

Oregon began requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine in 2006. Mississippi is poised to become the second state to require prescriptions. Opponents say a prescription law unfairly punishes law-abiding citizens.

They favor using databases to track pseudoephedrine purchases. In states with databases, including Kentucky and Oklahoma, meth lab totals rose in 2009.

Legislation pending in several states would require consumers to get a prescription to buy cold and allergy pills containing pseudoephedrine. (4Feb10)
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:37 PM on February 4, 2010

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