01/15/2006

Ill.: Meth crackdown starts requiring ID for common cold remedies

By JAN DENNIS
Associated Press Writer

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.- Showing ID isn't just for smokes and beer anymore.

Starting Sunday, cold and allergy sufferers in Illinois will need identification and they must be willing to sign a log before they can buy a popular decongestant that's also used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine.

State police have seen a huge jump in the number of meth lab busts in recent years _ from just 24 in 1997 to nearly 1,000 each of the past three years _ and the number of Illinois cases has risen to third in the nation.

The state tried pulling pseudoephedrine-based medications off open shelves and putting them behind the counter last year, but Illinois remained a magnet for meth makers because other state's had even stiffer requirements, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

Oregon, meanwhile, started a registry for cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine and saw its methamphetamine lab discoveries dropped by more than half last year.

"Our hopes are that we will see similar numbers," Madigan said.

She and others hope that by further limiting access to the drug found in nonprescription medications such as Sudafed, Tylenol Cold and Claritin D, will curb the growing problem.

Just the requirement that buyers show ID may deter many meth users, who are often already paranoid because of the effects of the drug, said Master Sgt. Bruce Liebe, who heads the state police meth response team.

The newly required logs could also become a powerful investigative tool for law enforcement, said McLean County Sheriff Dave Owens. The logs will be confidential in most respects, but available to police for drug investigations.

Some pharmacists aren't as optimistic. They say the new law will give them headaches by forcing them to check IDs, log every purchaser by name and keep track of medication so buyers don't exceed 7.5 grams of pseudoephedrine a month, which authorities say is enough for daily recommended dosages of the decongestant. If they don't follow it, they could face $500 fines and possible criminal charges.

Bill Martin, who owns an independent pharmacy in Bloomington, decided to simply stop selling the cold and allergy remedies rather than deal with it.

"We just didn't want to hassle with the paperwork. We sell so little of it that we just pulled it off the shelves," Martin said.

Shoppers, however, say they're willing to wait if the new law reverses the rise of the highly addictive, homemade drug.

"You can't be in that big of a hurry if it helps the kids _ not just the kids, everyone," said Nancy Harvey, 54, of Normal.

As of October, 37 states had some sort of restriction on the sales of pseudoephedrine, from requiring a prescription to simply limiting the number of packages purchased at one time, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Since then, Michigan has also restricted sales.

Nationally, lawmakers wrote federal restrictions into legislation to extend the Patriot Act, but those restrictions weren't included in the temporary renewal that was enacted, and its fate in Congress this year is uncertain.

Illinois officials acknowledge their new law isn't perfect.

For now, purchases will only be logged at individual stores, meaning meth producers can still stockpile medications by hitting several pharmacies. Madigan hopes to develop a statewide database. Walgreens, based in Illinois, is considering its own database for its nearly 500 stores statewide, as well, spokesman Michael Polzin said.

Lynn Webber, who owns an independent pharmacy in Bloomington, said the state might be overreacting at the expense of customers and pharmacists.

"We're jousting at windmills," Webber said. "It's a terrible addiction, but it's such a small percentage of the drug users."

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