Pseudoephedrine and Methamphetamine

Pharmacy Times
Volume 0

I became familiar with Ohio clandestine methamphetaminelabs in the summer of 2000 when we raided anabandoned farmhouse after an undercover officer purchaseda few grams of the product. Inside the housewere several adults and a couple of children, all living insubstandard conditions, with all the adults emaciated fromconstant use of methamphetamine.

In addition to finding small amounts of the drug, I alsobecame acquainted with other precursor chemicals, likeether from starting fluid cans, lithium batteries, and pseudoephedrinetablets that had been used in the cookingprocess. Individuals who had learned a recipe from anothermeth abuser, and were risking all of their lives while handlingvolatile chemicals, had cooked all of this on a stove.

Also in the residence were over 50 firearms, most of themsemiautomatic rifles, fully loaded and ready to fire. Fortunately,we surprised them and needed no force to take theminto custody. We eventually learned that domestic violence,child endangerment, and overwhelming paranoia were analmost everyday occurrence at this house. I would also learnthat methamphetamine was the most addictive drug I haveever encountered, with about a 6% successful recovery ratefor addicts.

I also knew that the Western United States had been sufferingthrough this problem long before it came to Ohio,and that the Drug Enforcement Administration reportedthat over 7000 clandestine labs were discovered by lawenforcement in 2003, with Missouri likely leading the country.Oklahoma made pseudoephedrine a Schedule 5 (CV)controlled substance in April 2004 after 3 state troopers werekilled by meth cooks. Its clandestine meth labs havedropped by more than 80%.

Now a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers have sponsoreda bill to require customers to show identification andtalk to a pharmacy employee when they want to purchaseproducts containing pseudoephedrine. If the bill passes, customerswould be able to purchase up to 9 g of pseudoephedrineper month, equaling about 300 pills every 30days. It also contains grant funding for methamphetaminetreatment.

Opponents say that this type of legislation hurts the overwhelmingmajority of people who buy pseudoephedrineproducts—legitimate customers like you and me. Customersmay have to stand in line, and already busy pharmacyemployees will spend inordinate amounts of time checkingidentification and selling an OTC product.

Still other companies point out the fact that many ofthese proposed laws target all forms of pseudoephedrinethat include liquid and liquid-filled capsules, when thetablet form holds the only plausible means for manufacturingmethamphetamine.

One observation I have made in our 4+ years dealing withthis very destructive drug is that most of the pseudoephedrineused in our illegal labs was stolen from pharmacies,service stations, and discount stores. Clandestinemeth lab cooks and their friends usually do not have themoney to purchase the ingredients needed to make thedrug, their addiction having sucked every penny out ofthem as they search for the next "high."

I wonder if a compromise may be in order if most of theOTC drug is being stolen for the manufacture of meth. Whynot put pseudoephedrine products behind the counter atthe front register like tobacco? No identification would needto be shown, no one would have to sign for it, but youwould have to pay for the cough and cold medicines.

Also, if liquid and liquid-filled capsules are not conduciveto being used for the manufacture of methamphetamine,then why not leave those products on the shelves? We needa sensible response to this huge and ugly problem, but wealso do not need to unnecessarily punish the millions oflegitimate users, while putting even more burden on pharmacyemployees.

In the meantime, pharmacy employees need to be diligentin spotting suspicious activity. Do not put yourself in jeopardy,but if you can get a license number on a car, note a suspect'sdescription, make sure the pharmacy cameras are functioningall of the time, and contact your local law enforcement agency,you may just be saving someone's life.

John Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drugtask force and retired commander of the Cincinnati PolicePharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteran oflaw enforcement. For information, he can be reached bye-mail at, via the Web site, or by phone at 513-336-0070.

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