There are two ways, one correct and one not, to look at the Mississippi Legislature’s decision to resume allowing the sale of certain cold and sinus medications without a prescription.
A bill that won almost unanimous support in both the House and Senate will, starting in January 2022, begin a two-year period in which ephedrine and pseudoephedrine can be sold without a prescription in products like Sudafed and Claritin-D. It won’t quite be an over- the-counter sale because a national computer system must first verify that the customer isn’t making excessive purchases. But it clearly will be less of a nuisance.
The cold and sinus products have had to use other ingredients to provide relief since 2010, when Mississippi, like most other states, required prescriptions for anything that included ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.
States made the change because people who were cooking crystal methamphetamine needed the two drugs for the manufacturing process, and the medications were easy to buy or steal.
The wrong way to look at the Legislature’s vote — the Senate approved the bill in February, while the House followed suit this week — is to believe that crystal meth production and sales are under control, since it only took 11 years to get ephedrine and pseudoephedrine medications away from the prescription requirement.
More accurately, states have been moving the two drugs away from prescription requirements because of good old American ingenuity — however misplaced it is in this case.
Once the key ingredients of crystal meth became more difficult to obtain, illegal drug manufacturers managed to find replacement ingredients, which reportedly are less expensive and more widely available.
To put it another way, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are no longer essential to the production of illegal drugs. So the reason for requiring a prescription for them has diminished.
The bill wisely expires in just two years. The Legislature and law enforcement should get a decent idea of whether somebody figures out a new illegal use for the two drugs. That just might happen, although anyone who wrestles with sinus headaches and remembers how helpful the pseudoephedrine-based Sudafed was can only hope that the narcotics chefs leave it alone.
The bill includes other safeguards designed to discourage ephedrine and pseudoephedrine seekers from stockpiling the drugs for illegal purposes. A pharmacy or other business selling the medication must keep it behind a counter or in an area where the public is not permitted.
Mississippi Today reported that anyone who buys medication that includes either of the drugs must be 18 years old. They must show their driver’s license or other state ID and sign a document recording the purchase. The bill limits the amount they can buy.
Before completing a sale, the business must enter information about the buyer into a national drug-tracking system, and the sale will be rejected if the system issues an alert.
Relaxing the prescription rule for these two drugs makes sense, but only because the manufacturers have moved on. Sadly, our society’s craving for drugs is as strong as ever.