Taking cold pills off store shelves already practiced
By Mike Wells ~ Southeast Missourian
In nearly every supermarket, gas station and pharmacy, they're hanging on pegs or in cardboard displays placed conveniently at the checkout counter.
For a few bucks -- or even with a five-finger discount -- a person can quickly turn those inexpensive little boxes of pills meant to relieve colds and allergies into a load of cash and a fast, dangerous high.
Their active ingredient, ephedrine or psuedoephedrine, is used by some to make the illicit, hard-to-stop drug methamphetamine. For the last two years, Missouri has held the dubious title of the nation's meth lab leader, and state lawmakers want to shake off that crown by making the drug's main ingredient harder to get.
Under a bill passed by the state House of Representatives Thursday, several common cold and allergy medications would become over-the-counter medications, requiring customers to request products such as Sudafed and Actifed. The House voted 136-12 to send the bill, HB 470, to the Senate. No Southeast Missouri lawmakers voted against the measure.
The bill's key issues:
Stores would have to keep non-prescription products with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as their sole active ingredient behind a counter or within six feet of it and within clear view of a clerk. Products containing additional active ingredients would be exempt.
A violation would be a class A misdemeanor.
Consumers could only buy two packages at a time. Current state law limits consumers to three packages.
The bill would not apply to retailers using anti-theft systems that prevent the theft of such drugs.
Law enforcement agencies support the legislation, saying it will discourage theft and curb methamphetamine abuse.
"Anything we can do to make it a little tougher to obtain the ingredient is a step in the right direction," said Kevin Glaser of the SEMO Drug Task Force. "You want to make it as difficult as you can for those people to obtain that product. They will be very concerned about having to ask for two or three boxes repeatedly because after a couple times the clerk will recognize them."
Other supporters say people buying the products for legitimate use would only be minimally inconvenienced to have to ask for the pills -- a small price to pay to keep the drugs away from meth cooks.
But some retail groups and major pharmaceutical companies, such as Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, oppose the measure, saying it would pose an undue burden on retailers in terms of storage.
The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he believes the bill strikes a balance between addressing the methamphetamine problem without unduly burdening retailers.
But Cape Girardeau Target store manager Rick Done doesn't agree. He doesn't see how stores like his can affordably comply with the proposed regulations.
"It would be really difficult for us in this store location, because we don't have anything behind counters," he said. "Some Targets in larger markets have pharmacies and a pharmacist is stationed there to watch over things, but we don't have that capability here."
If the bill passes, Done thinks his company may discontinue carrying the products in his particular store rather than redesign the sales floor. "For this store here, it would probably come down to just not selling it," he said.
Jackson Country Mart store manager Jim Kincy said the bill wouldn't place a burden on responsible retailers. His store has locked up the pills and limited the purchase to two boxes for the last year and a half.
"You're not talking about putting very many items on that much shelf space," he said. "You could put them behind the counter on a one-by six-foot shelf and have all the room you'd need for a month's supply. It's just because they don't want the hassle is why they're resisting it."
Cape Girardeau Schnuck's store manager Dennis Marchi said he'd read about the bill and doesn't expect it to change what his store is already doing to stem theft of ephedrine or psuedoephedrine.
For at least three years, Schnuck's has kept such pills and lithium batteries, another key ingredient in the methamphetamine recipe, behind locked doors, Marchi said. Previously meth cooks would empty the shelves of the products on a nearly daily basis.
"We did that as a self-defense mechanism, really, because we were just getting annihilated by the thieves, and we were not getting credit for it in our sales," Marchi said. "Now when we sell twelve, we order twelve."
He's seen smaller retailers try to battle the theft by keeping just one to two boxes of each product on the shelves and says the bill, if passed, will make it hard for those smaller stores to make a profit off the products. But he believes the legislation is still a good idea.
"There's a definite need for it," he said. "It's just sad because all this is doing is curbing the sales for those who legitimately use those products."
335-6611, extension 160