Are the cops going to care about my Claritin habit?
October 18, 2007 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I have been caught trying to buy more pseudoephedrine than is allowed by under Federal guidelines. Am I about to be hauled off to the meth version of Gitmo?!

Once upon a time, I had terrible allergies. Then I started taking 24 hour Claritin-D every day, and my allergies went away. I can sleep at night; my nose is not irritated from constant blowing; I can wear eye makeup any time I want, confident that my watery eyes will not smear it. I love 24 hour Claritin-D. It's so awesome that I don't even mind spending a buck a day on allergy medicine.

Today I realized that I was going to run out of Claritin soon, and I went to my local CVS to get more. The nice pharmacist ran my license through her little computer and told me that I couldn't buy my 15-pack of Claritin-D, because I'm over my monthly pseudoephedrine limit. She gave me a little printout about the psuedoephedrine policy, and when I called the number on it, a recording told me that I'd run afoul of something called "MethCheck." Great.

So what happens now? I take it that MethCheck automatically alerts the police when you try to buy more than the allowed amount of pseudoephedrine. Are the police going to come banging on my door? I'm embarrassingly law-abiding, so it's not like it would be the end of world, but I'm still a little unnerved at the thought of being investigated because I decided to buy allergy medicine a day or two before I ran out.
posted by craichead to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where are you?
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:00 PM on October 18, 2007

I don't know what happens, but if anything does, you should really contact your Congress critters and bitch, bitch, bitch. A law-enforcement system that relies on a log of sniffly people to combat meth cooking is basically saying, "we're impotent."

I stopped using pseudophedrine for this reason, by the way, even though it really helped me with allergy management, especially if I'm having an attack. I don't miss it. It's quite possible that if allergies are your only issue (as opposed to some other sinus congestion issue), you don't need it either once your allergies are being managed consistently. (Full disclosure: Claritin has been completely ineffective for me.)
posted by caitlinb at 5:01 PM on October 18, 2007

This meth-Sudafed nonsense is Federal, LobsterMitten. If there are local differences in how log triggers like this are handled, though, that would be interesting to know.
posted by caitlinb at 5:02 PM on October 18, 2007

Response by poster: Midwest. I wouldn't say there's a meth problem in the immediate vicinity, but there probably is in rural areas around here.
posted by craichead at 5:04 PM on October 18, 2007

I live in New York, and I've never had my license swiped when buying Claritin.
posted by sweetkid at 5:07 PM on October 18, 2007

Claritin-D has pseudoephedrine, not regular Claritin (loratadine).
posted by kcm at 5:09 PM on October 18, 2007

Unless you were involved, or suspected of being involved, with a meth lab, I seriously doubt you have anything to worry about. Unless the crime rate where you live is astonishingly low, I'm sure the police have far better things to do than to investigate every person who happens to exceed the pseudoephedrine limit. If you were already on their radar for something related, then your name coming up for this might earn you some scrutiny. Or if you went to a bunch of other pharmacies and tried to buy the stuff there, so that it looked like you were really desperate to get it, that would probably raise a red flag.

So, basically, don't get involved with a meth lab, and don't do anything to make anyone think you're involved with a meth lab. Come to think of it, that's probably pretty good advice, anyway.
posted by cerebus19 at 5:10 PM on October 18, 2007

Straight Claritin, contains no pseudoephedrine and has the same antihistamine (or whatever they call it) but no decongestant. You can get it without the meth check.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:10 PM on October 18, 2007

MethCheck white paper. This isn't a legal requirement, it's something that several national pharmacy chains have purchased as a centralized, computerized replacement for the manual logs that are already required by law.

I guess only you know whether or not this flag was justified, i.e. going over the monthly limit set by your state. There's a "law enforcement interface" but I doubt they're going to go knocking on the doors of everyone who goes over the limit once. You should probably ask when you're free to buy more next, as I suspect there's a rolling "month" that they're using rather than calendar months.

I'm still a little unnerved at the thought of being investigated because I decided to buy allergy medicine

Oh, it's absolutely ridiculous, but cracking down on crystal meth users is a surefire vote winner. If enough people are inconvenienced by this asshattery, though, it just might change. I doubt that, somehow, since they've already cowed the industry into changing out the formulary for most OTC cold medications. The beatings, apparently, will continue until morale improves.
posted by dhartung at 5:20 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

By federal law you're limited to 9 grams of pseudoephedrine each month. The 24-hour version of Claritin-D has 240 mg of pseudoephedrine in each tablet. That means you can purchase 37 tablets per month without running afoul of the federal law.

If the DEA or your state officials come knocking, be honest with them. They likely won't bother you if you stick to the one-pill-per-day dosage recommendations and don't exceed the limit for months in a row. Alternatives: use the plain version of Claritin sans pseudoephedrine, or see an allergist and obtain a prescription medication without pseudoephedrine.
posted by lambchop1 at 5:21 PM on October 18, 2007

You are meeting the fabulous part of the Patriot Act called the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act Of 2005. Pharmacies are required to track the amount of pseudo. sold because (not making this up) there is the fear that terrorists use meth labs to fund their various blowings up, hijackings, and other things. My pharmacist personally hates this and finds it a huge pain in the ass.

It looks like you may be getting a call, but it also looks like this all of one those 'intent to distribute' laws. Since it is part of the Patriot Act, I think your civil rights are down the toilet. There are several references below, but they are maddeningly vague on what happens to you when MethCheck flags you. I'm not sure if the burden is on the pharmacy, or if it automatically goes to some enforcement agency.

Apparently, pseudo possecion is illegal in some states; ymmv. There are, of course, no uniform drug laws.

But yes. The hateful truth is that there are all kinds of public records about what kinds of drugs you buy and are prescribed, in the name of fighting terror. Just like your library books, plane trips, and phones being tapped.

My taxpayer dollars helpfully at work.

MethCheck info is here:

See here for details about the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act Of 2005 (bottom of page)

and here, at DOJ

And frontline has a nice summary of what it's all for (while dodging the whole privacy impinging):

* Nationalize restrictions on retail sales by requiring ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products to be kept behind the counter or in a locked case; require purchasers to buy no more than 3.6 grams a day and 9 grams a month, show I.D. and sign a sales log, and require employees handling the products to be properly trained
* Toughen penalties against meth kingpins and smugglers and also meth cooks who endanger children or use federal property
* Step up the government's authority to monitor the flow of precursor chemicals from foreign manufacturers, including withholding aid to countries who are not fully cooperating with U.S. law enforcement
* Hold precursor chemical importers and exporters accountable if their product is diverted for illicit use
* Increase funding for assistance programs such as drug courts and those helping mothers or drug-endangered children
* Impose on manufacturers quotas for production and import of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine
* Pledge support to Mexico in its efforts to curb methamphetamine production
posted by beezy at 5:25 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Happened to me once, for the same reason as yours, and nothing happened. It's a precautionary measure, AFAIK.

And FWIW (and I speak as someone who favors decriminalization of all drugs): if you've never seen how jerry-rigged meth labs use packages and packages of OTC psuedoephedrine, watch the Fontline video somebody mentioned above.
posted by Rykey at 6:00 PM on October 18, 2007

To avoid this in the future, at your next doctor appointment, have your MD write you a script for Claritin-D and have him/her make it for an amount over the 9 g limit. In Illinois, at least, if you have a prescription, you can purchase more than the limit. That's how I got to buy 2 months of Claritin-D at a time, since that's what my mail order pharmacy will dispense.
posted by MeetMegan at 6:17 PM on October 18, 2007

My gut feeling is NO, there is nothing to worry about. The system (a shitty one at that) worked exactly as it was supposed to, so the Feds and the CVS are all happy. I'm sure it's common for people to run over their limit. I think it might be different if you had actually succeeded in purchasing the goods or if CVS called the cops while you were on premises (which I wouldn't put past them -- I hate those megapharmacies).
posted by zek at 6:18 PM on October 18, 2007

What MeetMegan says, but you also just might able to call the doctor and ask for the prescription over the phone and they will call it into CVS and viola your sinuses are clear again.
posted by Eringatang at 6:25 PM on October 18, 2007

Tell you what, I'll make a deal that if you get jacked up for trying to buy 15 Claritin-D pills, I'll contribute to your legal defense fund if you agree to be the public face of this idiocy.
posted by rhizome at 7:13 PM on October 18, 2007

I highly doubt you'll be in any trouble. In fact, I'm pretty sure you'd be perfectly fine simply going to another pharmacy chain and buying your pseudoephedrine there.

(I don't know about CVS, but I do work for Walgreens, and I'm almost positive that their PSE database only applies to the company, not to the whole state. They're not coordinated with other pharmacy chains, although I think the data might be audited later by the state to find gross infringements.)
posted by neckro23 at 7:40 PM on October 18, 2007

You are meeting the fabulous part of the Patriot Act called the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act Of 2005.

I think this is also the reason, by the way, that making soap at home is a whole lot harder: lye (sodium hydroxide) is a main ingredient in both soap and in the meth-making process, so it can no longer be sold in stores *and* if you buy it online, you have to buy it with other soap-making supplies.

So, yeah, talk to your congressperson I suppose but if the all-powerful soap-making granny lobby hasn't been able to do something, you probably won't either.

Claritin-D is over-the-counter, right? Because I was able to buy a three-month supply of actual honest-to-goodness meth (i.e., Ritalin) because I was travelling overseas (usually you can only get one month at a time since it is a controlled substance). This experience leads me to believe that if you can manage to get a prescription for it, they probably won't give you as much grief.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:45 PM on October 18, 2007

Or what MeetMegan said.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:46 PM on October 18, 2007

I've been flagged on MethCheck before, at least twice, because I was going overseas and needed additional supplies of Sudafed 12-hour. Nothing happened, no knocks on the door or phone calls. I just had my husband buy it for me a the pharmacy across the street instead.

I hate, hate, hate that this limit is seen as necessary, but unfortunately I don't see it going away anytime soon...
posted by gemmy at 8:15 PM on October 18, 2007

What kind of cake would you like me to put the file into? ;)

This is a stupid thing and you can essentially forget about it. If I am wrong, I will actually send you a cake in prison if you email me.
posted by caddis at 8:57 PM on October 18, 2007

Had the same problem and I'm in Arizona. The first time they asked me for my license when I bought allergy medicine, I balked. Then, I went to the Circle K the other day to buy a lighter so I could burn incense in my apartment, and, THEY CARDED ME FOR A LIGHTER. This is not a joke. Welcome to America, 2007.

Oh...and I don't know what recourse you have but I just wanted you to know I share you pain.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:10 AM on October 19, 2007

I have that problem in Colorado. Walgreen's employees have NO idea what the law is and rely on the cash registers to either authorize or decline the ephedrine purchase.

I avoid this nonsense entirely by ordering from After sending a scan of my ID (the first time I ordered) I can order up to the actual limit each month without a bunch of hassle from a kid who is enforcing a law s/he doesn't even know.

I take a daily sinus pill that is sold in 18 and 36 packs. If the 36 is sold out, the Walgreen's twerps refuse to sell me 2 18 packs. It was this idiocy that drove me to in the first place, and once I realized I could buy two 36 packs at a time, I haven't looked back.
posted by Sheppagus at 12:20 PM on October 19, 2007

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