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Senate OKs meth bill to restrict cold medicine sales
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One of the main ingredients of meth is cold medicine, such as Sudafed. The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to restrict the sale of such cold and allergy medicines. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
A bill that would restrict the sale of cold medicine used to make methemphetamine gained unanimous approval from the Minnesota Senate Thursday. Medicine like Sudafed that contains pseudoephedrine would have to be kept behind pharmacy counters. While the bill has broad support among legislators, grocers and pharmacists say they're concerned about the restrictions.

St. Paul, Minn. — Supporters of the legislation say the state needs to limit the sale of Sudafed, Actifed and other cold products. That's because they're an essential component for meth makers in Minnesota. Meth makers stockpile the medicines in pill form, and distill the active ingredients to cook the drug.

State Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, has been nicknamed "Senator Meth" for her focus on the issue. Rosen says meth addicts go where it's easy to get pseudoephedrine.

"Every state around us is making dramatic changes in the way they handle pseudoephedrine, and we need to do the same thing. Because I will guarantee you, every meth head will approach Minnesota if we do anything less than schedule five," says Rosen.

Schedule five is a category of controlled substances. The Senate bill would reclassify Sudafed and other medicine as schedule five drugs, and institute restrictions on access to them.

Store purchases of such drugs would be recorded in a log. Customers would have to show a photo ID and sign the log when purchasing the medication. They would be limited to only two packages in a 30-day period.

Some pharmacists say the requirements would be a burden, and some retailers oppose the bill. The executive director of the Minnesota Grocers Association, Nancy Christianson, says what are now widely available products would disappear off the shelves in many places.

"This is going to severely restrict the public's access to be able to buy over-the-counter medications that they've been used to doing," says Christianson. "Most of their grocers will not be carrying this, all of their convenience stores will not be carrying this."

Christianson says most grocery stores don't have a pharmacy, particularly in rural areas. Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to allow any retailer to sell the medicine if it was kept in locked cases.

"I live in a district where probably more than half of the residents of that district live in a community, or in the country, where no pharmacy is readily available," says Kubly.

Kubly says Minnesotans shouldn't have to drive 30 miles to the nearest pharmacy to buy cold medicine. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, says allowing every retailer to sell the medication would make it tougher for law enforcement to track their purchase.

"If we had the money, if we were rolling in dough and we could let every community double the size of their police force, then maybe," Berglin says. "But we don't. So we need to be judicious with our resources."

Berglin points out that the bill exempts cold products for children, and liquid and gel-cap versions, which could still be sold in gas stations and convenience stores. Her bill also directs the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to come up with a plan for a centralized database to track purchases of the medicine in the next year.

All 67 senators voted for the bill, but it has a much longer road ahead of it in the House. There, restrictions on the sale of cold medicine are contained in a broader meth bill that would increase penalties for making and selling the drug. It has already cleared two House committees, but must make at least five more stops before reaching the floor.