State cracks down on cold medicine

By Gus Bode

Cold and allergy medications aren’t just for that sneezing, coughing and stuffy- headed feeling anymore.

Some of the medications contain ephedrine and psuedoephedrine, key ingredients for methamphetamine, an addictive stimulant drug. According to state police, the over-the-counter drugs’ dual usage has caused a boom of medication theft and abuse complaints.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation Tuesday, limiting customers to no more than two cold medication packets per visit.


Consumers aren’t the only ones who will face changes, though. Retailers will have to lock up the medicine cabinet or keep it behind the counter.

Walgreen Drug Store employees, however, won’t have major changes to make. Last year, the chain began requiring employees to keep drugs, such as Sudafed, behind the counter, said Roger Pfister, the Carbondale store’s pharmacy manager. In addition, the store has been limiting customers to two boxes for the last six to eight months.

Rep. John Bradley, a bill sponsor, said while meth use and production started in rural areas, it is moving toward larger cities and may soon become an urban epidemic.

By requiring stores to self-police cold medication sales, the Marion Democrat said more obstacles should create hassles for meth producers.

“Basically, what we’ve done is taken the flour out of the cake. You can’t make cake without flour, and you can’t make meth without pseudoephedrine, ” Bradley said.

The changes may put retailers at odds with the needs of some customers, but the larger issue is the meth plague, said Rob Karr, vice president of government and member relations for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Although Pfister said he’d be torn between not inconveniencing customers and cracking down on improper sales, the manager suggested having customers show their driver’s license and sign for medicine to pinpoint repeat buyers.


“I might sell a box in the morning, and another pharmacist might sell a box at nighttime after I’m gone. And then the overnight pharmacist might sell a box to the same person,” he said, explaining the inability to track people who purchase over-the-counter drugs.

Last year, the Illinois State Police dismantled 971 meth labs, an increase from just more than 400 in 2000.

Blagojevich also signed a bill earlier this week creating stiffer penalties for meth-related fires.