Failed Cough Syrup Legislation

Cough Syrup Ban Was Our Best Bet

A new black market has emerged for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which, in addition to soothing your throat, is used to make meth.

The five-year-old phenomenon reveals that current state laws mandating electronic monitoring systems to track purchases of over-the-counter cold pills have failed to curb the drug trade — but in the absence of funding to develop more sophisticated monitoring technology, the legislature’s 2005 ban was the best solution in the war on methamphetamine.

The 2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act mandates that cold pills be placed behind the counter, that purchasers show ID and that pharmacies log each sale. With electronic tracking, buyers’ names are entered into statewide databases, and customers are forbidden from purchasing more than their monthly limit of cold medicines containing the substance.

The law hasn’t put a huge dent in illegal meth usage — there were approximately 12 million users in 2005 and 13 million in 2007 — though methamphetamine-related arrests and drug seizures did rise by 34 percent.

According to Missouri Pharmacy Association CEO Ron Fitzwater, without electronic tracking, law enforcers would have less help tracking down dealers.

Methamphetamine production would remain unchanged and producers wouldn’t have to resort to under-the-table deals to acquire pseudoephedrine.

As long as the enormous profitability of the drug trade is around to seduce narcotics producers, all that can be done is to hinder the process by limiting where producers can get their product and plug away with new technology.

— Arik Burakovsky

Staff Writer

Law Opens Door to Illegal Black Market

Despite the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act’s goal to halt meth production, six years later, the bill has spurred an underground black market for cough syrup.

Now that the law prohibits those with a record from buying cough syrup, many methamphetamine producers have called upon others with clean records to buy it for them.

According to Associated Press reporter Jim Salter, the electronic tracking system has not halted the drug market, but instead has opened a dangerous door for individuals with seemingly clean records to profit from the sale of cough medicine to those working in meth labs.

The electronic systems mandated by the law are used to track the sales of cold medicine and allow pharmacies to instantly check whether the customer has already purchased the legal limit of pseudoephedrine (3.6 grams daily). But the illegal market for the product has expanded to the point that those cleared to purchase cough syrup are able to re-sell it at up to five times the price, with a very low risk for being discovered and arrested.

According to Gary Boggs, an agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, this law has created a “sub-criminal culture” that allows those with a clean record to weekly pharmacy rotations buying cough medicine until they have reached the legal limit.

Although lawmakers had good intentions in trying to deter the drug fiends, the bill has actually increased illegal activity. If that’s not evidence of the measure’s failure, we don’t know what is.

— Lexi Halamandaris

Staff Writer

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