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How the Meth Epidemic Has Influenced Strict Regulations for OTC Medicines

— April 5, 2022

Many people are familiar with the timeline of meth, starting with amphetamine used in the 20th century to increase the alertness of U.S. soldiers in the military.

It can be argued that the meth epidemic has left a lasting impact on the entire world that goes far beyond drug abuse. In fact, meth has even played a part in how we deal with allergies and the common cold today. Here’s how the meth epidemic has created a change in the way we access (over-the-counter) OTC medicines today.

What Is Meth?

Many people are familiar with the timeline of meth, starting with amphetamine used in the 20th century to increase the alertness of U.S. soldiers in the military. Methamphetamine was a more potent development that came afterward in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers, but even this is different from the illicit form known today as crystal meth. While there is a legitimate form of meth that is produced today, such as the brand Desoxyn, most of the epidemic is focused on “cooked” meth. This form of meth production is unregulated, unsafe, and very dangerous, and it’s the leading form that people are getting on the streets today.

But what does this have to do with OTC medicines? For one thing, this “cooking” process is literally a mixed bag of all kinds of things, and many of those things are already familiar to you. The most popular ingredient is pseudoephedrine. You have come across this ingredient if you’ve ever gone to the pharmacy and bought medicines like Sudafed, NyQuil, or Tylenol Sinus. Surprisingly, resources for meth production are no further than the cold and flu medication offered for sale at your local pharmacy! 

What’s Changed Now

But things have changed. After this trend began to pick up speed, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. This act requires pharmacies and stores selling pseudoephedrine products to have a purchase log and a limit on individual purchases each day. While recent statistics still show that methamphetamine is used worldwide, meth lab incidents have dropped over 80 percent since the law was passed. 

In addition to the federal law, some states opted to fight back against the epidemic with their own laws, such as Oregon and Mississippi requiring a prescription for medicines containing pseudoephedrine. If you don’t live in those states, you can still see how this has changed the way OTC medications containing pseudoephedrine are obtained. They are required to be bought with a photo ID, and the seller is required to document the purchase into a log for packages that contain more than 60 mg (milligrams) of pseudoephedrine. If you’re wondering why certain medications that you could simply walk up and grab from the shelf before 2005 are now protected behind the counter or on a locked shelf, this is why.

But it’s not just the regulations that have changed over time. The past decade has seen some attempts to fight the meth risk at the chemical level. Pseudoephedrine drugs like Nexafed use what’s called Impede® technology to disrupt the extraction process. It certainly says something about the progression of the pharmaceutical industry when a drug’s marketing strategy is based on emphasizing how much harder it is to make meth from their drug compared to their competitor.

Concern for the Future

State Workers Say They Don't Have Enough Sick Time
Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

While these kinds of regulations can be appreciated for their attempt at curbing the availability and threat of meth production, they can’t get rid of the drug once and for all. If the history of drug production teaches us anything, it’s that new drugs will always be on the horizon. Regulations can cause interruptions and roadblocks for manufacturing, but this will only start the search for new ingredients. In fact, new forms of meth like P2P are already hitting the streets worldwide.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the law that went into effect in 2011 that required a prescription for purchasing pseudoephedrine-containing medication ended in January of 2022 by a new Senate bill. This has received mixed reactions in the state. For some struggling with chronic congestion, this is good news; the laws had previously required them to visit their doctor for a new Sudafed prescription. If you had a high copay, this could quickly rack up financially. On the other hand, law enforcement and citizens are worried that new meth labs will begin rising up again, undoing what the past decade of regulations aimed at trying to do.

While things have changed for the better, some things seem to be moving backward. But what has stayed the same is the ongoing threat of meth worldwide. Knowing the trends and laws is a great place to start, but the best way forward is to address meth detox and recovery efforts on an individual basis. If you or someone you love is struggling with meth addiction, it is imperative to seek professional help immediately. Since this drug is one of the most addictive stimulants available, it is dangerous to try quitting without the proper help and support in place.  


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