By Michelle Guffey
Killeen Daily Herald
As of this month, empty shelves and wide open spaces in stores greet consumers searching for cold or allergy medication.
A new state law went into effect that took the products off the shelves and put them behind the counter to deter and track potential methamphetamine manufacturers.
The major part of the (new law) is to deny the one thing meth cookers need to make the drug, Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler), the bills primary author said.
Bermans bill that went into effect Aug. 1 is an attempt by Texas lawmakers to impede the growing meth problem across the state. House Bill 164 requires pharmacies and stores to pull decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient of meth, from the shelves and place them behind the counter or in a locked display case.
Some of these products include: Sudafed, Advil Cold, Tylenol Sinus, Claritin-D and Alka-Seltzer Cold. These seemingly harmless medications are being used in the manufacturing of a dangerous drug also known on the street as crank, speed, ice, crystal meth and Tina, to name a few.
Paul Howell, pharmacist at the H-E-B in Harker Heights, said that putting the items behind the counter will be a big deterrent to meth cookers.
Probably in the past we have had a problem with people buying or just taking them in large quantities, he said. Now people have to provide ID and we take down their information.
HB 164 is modeled after a similar bill in Oklahoma. Rep. Berman said within the first two years the number of drug labs in Oklahoma was reduced by over 80 percent.
Texas consumers now must provide identification, sign a log, provide their address, list the product they are buying and note the quantity. No more than 6 grams or two boxes of the medication in tablet, caplets or powder form can be bought at one time. The restrictions do not apply to liquid or gel forms of the drugs.
Pharmacies must maintain these records for two years and are to used by the Texas Department of Public Safety for drug investigations. DPS can scan these records to see if a suspect has been buying medication that contains pseudoephedrine.
Were glad to see (the new law), F.B. Young Jr. pharmacist at The Medicine Shoppe in Belton said.
The Medicine Shoppe was a step ahead one step ahead of the law. It already had a policy at the store to keep medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter. But before the change, the medicines were out in the open for anyone to purchase.
The people that came in didnt have a good reason to buy it, Young said. It was becoming a problem.
A problem that much of the country is facing.
According to a 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 12.3 million Americans 12 years old and older have tried meth at least once and about 1.3 million are regular users.
In 1999, the number of Americans who had tried meth at least once was 9.4 million.
Another store to jump ahead of the game was Wal-Mart. It had a policy in place since 1997 restricting the number of boxes that could be bought to three.
In a telephone interview, a Wal-Mart public relations spokesperson in the corporate office said the company will comply with any policy put into place by a community.
We realize this is an issue that affects everybody and we want to do out part, she said.
Not out of luck
Howell said that people who honestly need the restricted items arent totally out of luck if they do not want to go to the pharmacy counter. The store did leave the liquid forms of the cold medicines on the shelves.
However that could change. In Oregon two months ago, the DEA busted a meth lab where the cookers were using the liquid forms of pseudoephedrine.
If we have to, we will change the law to adapt, Berman said. But there have not been any cases in Texas where (meth users) use the liquid forms.
Another potential problem is sharing information between stores. Because there is not a statewide database linking each pharmacy , there is no way of knowing if someone who is in one store legally buying two boxes of Sudafed has just come from another store where they have purchased more medication.
Berman said most cookers will not shop around. He said the reason is that meth cookers are creatures of habit and are usually meth addicts themselves, which makes them paranoid by nature.
Nothing would prevent them from going place to place (buying cold medicine), Berman said.
However, due to the heightened paranoia of a meth addict, Berman said, it is not probable that they are going to risk it.
They havent been doing that in Oklahoma, Berman cites.
Contact Michelle Guffey at email@example.com