US FL: Need Cold Medicine? Keep Your ID Handy
by Mark Chediak, Sentinel Staff Writer, (02 Jun 2006) Orlando Sentinel Florida
Methamphetamine Concerns Prompt New Safeguards On Certain Medications
Get ready to give up a little bit of your privacy in exchange for certain allergy or cold medicines.
Starting in late September, just in time for cold season, consumers will be required to fork over photo IDs and list their home addresses in logbooks before buying Sudafed, Contac or other remedies containing the nasal-decongestant pseudoephedrine or similar substances.
Some retailers already are asking for the information, which law-enforcement officials hope will help them fight the illegal production of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that can be made, in part, by "cooking" pseudoephedrine.
Consumers in Florida and many other states have grown used to sales restrictions on pseudoephedrine-containing drugs -- including their placement behind pharmacy counters instead of on store shelves.
But the latest rules, which also call for limits on purchases of up to 120 pills a day, are part of a federal effort to combat meth addiction.
Methamphetamine abuse is an increasing problem in the United States, with a recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration saying the number of users admitted to substance-abuse clinics more than quadrupled from 1993 to 2003. The problem is particularly acute in rural America, though the Orlando area also has seen a rise in meth labs.
For instance, last year the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized 115 meth labs in Central Florida. In 2000, it seized two.
Tracking sales is critical to stopping the spread of meth labs in Central Florida, said Stephen Collins, who heads the Orlando office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Collins said it was "very common" for meth makers to comb the region's stores for cold medicine needed to make the illicit drug.
"We had individuals that would canvass up and down Central Florida and the East Coast and hit numerous stores, buying as much as they could get their hands on," he said. "By limiting this, we hope to see the decrease in the number of labs."
The new regulations, passed in March as part of the USA Patriot Act, are being phased in over the next several months. They are stricter than Florida law and will override it, the Florida Retail Federation said.
Dawn Townsend, a pharmacist at Maitland Rexall Drug Store, said she just recently learned about the logbook rule and is in the process of teaching her staff what to do.
"I don't see it as a hassle," she added.
Industry groups say they expect sales of medicines that contain pseudoephedrine to decline as a result of the law. Already, drug makers are selling reformulated cold medicines that don't need to be placed behind the counter, such as Sudafed PE.
"Most big retailers saw this coming," Walgreen Co. spokeswoman Carol Hively said.
The rise of meth labs prompted several states, including Florida last summer, to pass laws restricting sales of pseudoephedrine-containing medicine. But while consumers may not mind limits on how much cold medicine they can purchase at one time, they may bristle at giving up personal information to buy it.
"The question here is, is it the job of pharmacies and pharmacists to be a policeman on these products [and] what are the privacy protections for people who legitimately buy these products and have their name recorded somewhere?" said Arthur Levin, director of the New York-based Center for Medical Consumers, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Drugstores say measures are in place to prohibit the disclosure of consumers' private information, which retailers must keep for up to two years after a sale. The federal law, for instance, prohibits retailers from disclosing private information except when a legal request is made by local, state or federal authorities.
"We don't have any intention to use it in any way except to make it available to the authorities," Walgreen's Hively said.
And helping those authorities fight illegal meth production is why Lydia McNeil, 60, of Orlando is willing to give up personal information to buy the Sudafed she uses to treat her colds.
"I wouldn't mind signing anything to keep it out of the hands of the people who are using it for the wrong reason," she said, after shopping at a Walgreens on Michigan Avenue in Orlando.
Though the federal law does not provide for a clearinghouse, so purchases could be tracked from store to store, some retailers are working on that approach themselves within their chains. Walgreens and CVS -- two of the nation's biggest drugstore chains -- said they are developing systems to monitor sales. Wal-Mart says it already uses an electronic logbook that can track purchases at individual outlets but not from store to store.
Marianne Myers, 45, who was shopping at an Albertsons on South Orange Avenue in Orlando, said she understood the motive behind the new measures but lamented the implications.
"It's probably a hassle for us," the Orlando resident said. "It's sad that things have to be like that."