Have a cold? Let's see some ID

By MICHAEL WALSH, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - Marylanders who haven't been to the pharmacy this year, might want to start getting ready for the cold and allergy season—federal regulations have added red tape to the purchase of decongestants in an effort to curb methamphetamine production.

The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, effective a year ago, requires purchasers of pseudoephedrine, a common decongestant, to show identification, sign and limit purchases of the drug.

The law is an effort to curb the sale and illegal use of medications that contain ingredients, specifically decongestants, used to make methamphetamine.

"Initial indicators are that there has been a drop in meth use and labs and that the law is working," said Steve Robertson of the Drug Enforcement Administration, noting that official numbers will not be released until after the law has been in effect for one year, which falls at the end of this month.

Sellers of drugs containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine now have to keep those medications locked-up behind the counter.

Buyers, meanwhile, must produce a photo ID and provide the seller with their name, address, the date of purchase, time of sale and a signature.

The seller is required to log all the information so the government can track the amount and frequency of drug purchases by individuals. Records must be maintained for two years.

Pharmacists say the extra regulations are not a burden on them or the customer.

Rich Sabatelli, owner of Lawson's Pharmacy in Hyattsville said his smaller, community pharmacy doesn't have the same demand for allergy and cold medicine that some larger pharmacies might, making it easier to keep track of purchases.

"We know most of our clientele and really don't have a lot of people coming in off the street to buy allergy medicine," Sabatelli said. "If we sell over two (packages containing meth ingredients) a month, that's a lot."

Consumers are not allowed to purchase more than 3.6 grams daily of a drug containing precursors to methamphetamine production and no more than 9 grams in a month. Regulated sellers may sell no more than 146 tablets of a 30 milligram pseudoephedrine product per day, according to the law.

If the amounts are exceeded or a consumer or seller provides false identification information, they can be fined and jailed for up to five years, eight years if the incident is international, according to Section 1001 of Title 18 U.S. Code.

If a package contains less than 60 milligrams of pseudoephedrine, then the customer is not required to sign the logbook or provide identification.

But the law doesn't really affect most pharmacists and their customers said Sabatelli, it just takes a little longer to get them out the door with the medicine they need: "It's a really simple process."

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