Does restricting pseudoephedrine work?

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The NYT reports that Congress is considering bills to restrict the sale of pseudoephedrine (Sudafed):
Although the bills vary in detail, most would classify pseudoephedrine as a controlled substance and would allow sales of products containing it, like Sudafed, only in pharmacies, not in grocery or convenience stores. Customers would have to purchase the medicine from a pharmacist, show photo identification and sign a logbook.

The rationale, of course, is that pseudoephedrine can be used to synthesize methamphetamine. Of course, it's questionable how much restricting pseudoephedrine is going to put a dent in methamphetamine production:

While 80 percent of the nation's methamphetamine supply is smuggled into the United States from Mexico or churned out in so-called superlabs in the Central Valley of California, the rest is produced in small home laboratories or even in the trunks of cars.

Restricting pseudophedrine in the US isn't going to impact production in Mexico at all, and there are plenty of syntheses that don't require pseudoephedrine. I suspect if you're running a big lab you can afford to start from other precursors rather than bothering to extract them from pseudoephedrine tablets.

I wonder if anyone has done a serious cost/benefit analysis comparing the likely impact on methamphetamine production versus the effect on consumers who will have trouble getting decongestants. In my area, for instance, there are lots of drugstores that are open 24/7 but the pharmacies themselves often close at 6 or 8 PM.

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6 Comments

In addition to the questionable aspect of need for the legislation, the drug industry is supporting the restrictions, so you know it can't be bad for bizness too.

The 'superlabs' probably have access to all the controlled precursors. With the way production of some of these drugs work, trying to control them is not unlike DRM.

Steve, I read the article the opposite way:
A major question about the new bills is how effective opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and grocery and drug store trade associations will be. In past years, lobbying by these groups has largely succeeded in stopping efforts to restrict sales of pseudoephedrine products

When was the last time a war on drugs measure was subjected to any serious cost-benefit analysis? Why would they start now?

Eric, I am pretty certain industry is not opposing. They are attempting to influence the legislation. I just saw their lead lobbyist stating such. I think the article is misinformed.

I did a little more digging and it appears that industry is not going to actively lobby against. They are asking for changes though.

Their public face seems to be described on page 2 of the NYT article that you cited: Jay P. Kosminsky, a spokesman for Pfizer, said his company "will not be active in lobbying against" the new bills. "Pfizer is supportive of law enforcement efforts to get a handle on the meth issue," Mr. Kosminsky said.

Pfizer is, of course, the maker of Sudafed.

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