Missouri to Restrict Access to Cold Medicines at Retail Stores

Restrictions part of anti-meth push from stores, law enforcement


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Cold and allergy sufferers may soon have a harder time finding medicines such as Sudafed in Missouri, the latest state to enact new retail restrictions on products that can be used to make the illegal drug methamphetamine.

Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation Wednesday requiring the powder pill forms of medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to be placed behind the pharmacy counter and sold only by pharmacists and their technicians.

The new law also requires customers buying the medicines to be at least age 18, show photo identification and sign a log that police can later review. The restrictions do not apply to the gel cap or liquid forms of the medicines, because they are not easily transformed into meth.

''These bills will keep the key ingredients needed to make meth -- ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- out of the hands of drug manufacturers and, by doing so, will put them out of business,'' said Blunt, who was flying to five cities Wednesday for ceremonial bill signings.

Missouri has led the nation in meth lab seizures each of the past several years, busting 2,788 meth labs last year alone, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Just two years ago, Missouri also was at the national forefront in its anti-meth laws, becoming the first state to impose retail display restrictions on medicines. The 2003 law required products with pseudoephedrine or ephedrine as the sole active ingredient to be placed either behind the checkout counter, within 10 feet and a clear view of the counter or to be tagged with an electronic anti-theft device.

But meth lab seizures have continued to rise, and other states have enacted stricter laws than Missouri's. Through April, Missouri law officers reported 1,322 meth lab seizures this year -- on pace for a more than 40 percent increase over last year, said Highway Patrol Capt. Chris Ricks.

Law officers believe part of the increase is attributable to an influx of meth makers from neighboring Oklahoma, which in April 2004 became the first state to require that pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products be placed behind the pharmacy counter. Since then, more than a dozen other states have enacted similar laws. Congress also is considering a proposal modeled on the Oklahoma law.

Leading retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart and Walgreens have put in place their own guidelines to move cold products behind pharmacy counters or to limit their sales.

In anticipation of Missouri's new law, pharmacist Paul Vossen moved Sudafed tablets behind the pharmacy counter last week at Whaley's East End Drug in Jefferson City. Vossen said he now is moving all the other products containing pseudoephederine or ephedrine.

Although it may pose an inconvenience to customers, Vossen said the restrictions are long overdue.

''If it cuts down on the meth production, we're glad to go the extra route to assure other people don't get addicted,'' he said, ''because once you get hooked on that, it's almost impossible to get off.''

The new law gives stores until July 15 to move their pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products behind the pharmacy counters. Businesses without pharmacists, such as convenience stores, have until then to send their extra pills back to manufacturers or others who can legally sell them.

Pharmacists have until Sept. 13 to begin keeping a written or electronic log of customer names, addresses and purchase amounts of the restricted sinus medicines. However, the law does not require the logs to flow into a centralized database.

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