Florida is among the 41 states that have or are considering
restrictions on the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which
is used in the production of the illegal street drug methamphetamine.
Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut;
Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas;
Kentucky; Maryland; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi Missouri Montana
Nebraska New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio;
Oklahoma; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota;
Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin;
Source: The National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws; Sentinel research
By Susan Jacobson | Sentinel Staff Writer Posted March 10, 2005
Alarmed by the spread of the street drug
methamphetamine, legislators in dozens of states, including Florida,
are considering laws to restrict access to popular cold medicines such
as Sudafed, which can be used to make the dangerous stimulant.
The Florida law would place cold medicines with the nasal decongestant
pseudoephedrine as the only active ingredient behind the counter so
customers would have to request them. It also would limit purchases to
three packages at a time, said state Rep. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the
"Methamphetamine is a very dangerous drug," said Jim McDonough,
director of the Florida Office of Drug Control. "I've seen a lot of
scourges, but nothing like methamphetamine. It surpasses crack cocaine."
The manufacture of meth, once confined mainly to rural counties, has
spread into more urban areas, where "cooks" endanger themselves and
others when they use volatile, easily available chemicals to brew the
drug in houses, apartments and motels. The ingredients can catch fire
or explode, and their disposal creates a toxic-waste nightmare,
law-enforcement officers say.
Methamphetamine causes sleeplessness, loss of appetite and
increased energy and alertness when it is smoked, snorted or injected,
according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It also can be
highly addictive and bring on convulsions, a stroke, cardiac problems,
violence, paranoia and hallucinations.
The crisis has prompted some stores, including Wal-Mart and Walgreens,
to voluntarily impose limits on the quantity of certain cold medicines
customers may buy at a time. Other pseudoephedrine products include
Contac Cold caplets, Drixoral Nasal Decongestant, Nuprin Cold Relief
nasal decongestant, Dimetapp 12-Hour Extentabs and various store-brand
The maker of Sudafed, which police say is the preferred source of
pseudoephedrine for meth cooks, supports some restrictions on its sale.
To further foil methamphetamine manufacturers, the company in late
January began distributing a form of Sudafed that contains no
"We recognize it's a serious problem, and we want to be part of the
solution," said Erica Johnson, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Consumer Group.
The plan to tighten the screws on meth production is gaining momentum.
The state's proposed law, crafted with suggestions from the Florida
Retail Federation, drug manufacturers, law enforcement and several
state agencies, is designed to cut down on shoplifting of medicine and
to discourage buyers who don't have a legitimate need for cold pills.
"You never deter the real bold ones or the real desperate ones, but you deter a lot of them," McDonough said.
Critics say the law would not stop customers from going store to store
or having friends buy the drug for them, a practice known as
"smurfing." Steve Preisler, who wrote an instructional book on
methamphetamine manufacturing, said laws targeting over-the-counter
cold pills are grandstanding on the part of legislators.
"It's hitting on the very small players at the expense of the major
players," said Preisler, who writes under the pseudonym "Uncle Fester."
"They're ignoring the heavyweights that are bringing the truckloads
across the border."
Large labs found mainly in California and Mexico supply the majority of
meth, also known as "speed" or "crank," and the law would have no
effect on them, say opponents, including a group that represents
"Large labs getting pseudoephedrine in bulk from other sources,
that's what you've got to fix," said Michael Jackson, executive vice
president of the Florida Pharmacy Association.
That doesn't mean smaller labs should be ignored, Evers said.
"If we can control that 20 percent of the problem here at home, we're better off," he said.
Several shoppers said they would not mind the inconvenience of asking
for cold pills if it helps the fight against illegal drugs.
"You're saving a lot of lives," said Efraín Iglesias, 34, a
psychotherapist, as he waited Wednesday in the pharmacy section of a
Super Target in south Orange County.
"Why punish everybody, right?" asked Bob Springer, 68, an Orlando retiree. "I think it's an overreaction."
Forty other states already restrict the sale or possession of
pseudoephedrine products or are considering some controls, according to
The National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.
Federal legislation patterned after a 2004 Oklahoma law also has been
introduced that would put cold medicine made with pseudoephdrine behind
pharmacy counters and require buyers to sign for it and show
identification. No prescription would be required.
Meth-lab busts plummeted in Oklahoma after the law took effect, but
officials are still trying to determine whether the restrictions caused
The Florida House bill had a first reading Tuesday and is awaiting
assignment to a committee. State Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, is
sponsoring an identical Senate bill that was filed Tuesday, the opening
day of the 2005 legislative session. Medications that contain pain
relievers, antihistamines or other medicines in combination with
pseudoephedrine would not be subject to the new law. It is impossible
to make methamphetamine without pseudoephedrine, experts said.
An estimated 600,000 Americans illegally use methamphetamine, according
to a 2003 national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration. The numbers are the most recent available.
Statistics show a rising number of seizures of methamphetamine
laboratories in Florida. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
recorded 28 seizures statewide in the year ending Sept. 30, 2001, said
Oscar Negrón, a spokesman. In the corresponding period of 2003-04,
there were 332 seizures, he said. This week alone, authorities busted
meth labs in Volusia, Lake and Brevard counties.
National admissions to treatment centers for methamphetamine and
amphetamine abuse also have ballooned, increasing from 42,300
admissions in 1996 to 124,601 in 2002. The figures are the most recent
from the Drug and Alcohol Services Information System.
Even some meth users say they support efforts to cut off the supply of
cold pills to home drug manufacturers. Kipp Tuttle, 33, said he once
cooked the drug in a $200-a-night motel room in south Orange County and
supported himself by dealing. However, he spent time in prison after he
made several sales to an undercover agent.
"It's going to be hard to control it, but I'm all for controlling it,"
said Tuttle, who is in the Osceola County Jail on
methamphetamine-related charges. "It pretty much takes over your life."
Susan Jacobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-931-5946.