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March 8, 2006

Targeting unpatriotic allergies
Posted by Teresa at 08:41 PM * 119 comments

When the Republicans were puffing and bullyragging about how we really NEEDED to pass the Patriot Act in order to combat terrorism, do you remember them mentioning the need to combat Sudafed?

Revised Patriot Act targets allergy, cold meds

Suffer from springtime allergies? You could be among the first affected by the USA Patriot Act poised for final congressional passage this week.

Besides terrorism, the bill takes aim at the production of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that cannot be manufactured without a key ingredient of everyday cold and allergy medicines. The bill would impose new limits next month for how much relief a person can buy over the counter.

And beginning Sept. 30, it’ll take a flash of ID to buy that medication.

If imposing controls on Sudafed is good policy, why can’t this be done through normal lawmaking processes?

I’ve given myself a limit on how many times a year I’m allowed to quote the passage from A Man for All Seasons about how if you tore down the structures and protections of the law to get at the Devil, and the Devil then turned on you, you’d find yourself facing him on bare ground, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide.

This is hardly the first time we’ve seen provisions supposedly intended to fight terrorism used for other purposes entirely. I’m certain it’s not the last.

Comments on Targeting unpatriotic allergies:
#1 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:17 PM:

War on Terror, War on Drugs, same diff.

I'd pay a lot of money for a competent sensible Congress.

#2 ::: Gabe ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:23 PM:

Competent sensible Congress?

Personally I say we impose term limits. But here's my twist: the first time you say something stupid, ANYTHING stupid, your term is up.

After both sides went through three or four generations of candidates we'd probably be done with career politicians and maybe then we could get something done.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:24 PM:

Ah, yes, those dangerous, terrorist sufferers from sinus conditions....

#4 ::: Ed Kohler ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:38 PM:

It sounds like the country may catch up to where Minnesota is already. We passed a bill limiting Sudafed purchases to 2 packs, and they're stored behind the pharmacy counters. Meth is a big problem in the small towns in MN.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:43 PM:

It's well known that al Qaeda members suffer from hay fever. This'll be sure to keep 'em out of America. And if they can't get meth they won't be able to stay up all night planning their diabolical schemes. Coffee just isn't strong enough to keep terrorists going.

Tell me -- has any provision of the so-called Patriot Act actually been used to combat terrorism? Or has it all been used against drug dealers, deadbeat dads, and people who question the motives, methods, and goals of the current ruling cabal?

#6 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:49 PM:


Term limits mean you have a constant influx of inexperienced legislators -- not noble new citizen-lawmakers, but fresh meat easily cooptable (or pre-coopted) by corporate interests.

Think the Repug Revolution/Contract class of 94, not the Continental Congress.

#7 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:49 PM:

Mr. MacD, you forgot library users in your litany.

#8 ::: Mary R ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 09:52 PM:

Haven't I read that the crackdown on meth ingredients was having the effect of creating a market for Mexican manufactured meth? So you're basically trading 'murcins blowing up their houses for gangsters. Wonderful.

#9 ::: mcubed ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 11:32 PM:

Oregon already does this, though we haven't been doing it for very long. Still, so far it looks like it's effective.

There are low-cost alternatives to pseudoephedrine that drug manufacturers can (and are) switching to.

So, who is this hurting exactly? Why is this a bad idea?

#10 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 11:57 PM:

Actually, Oregon has just banned OTC pseudoephedrine completely. By the end of this month is, I think, when they are going to have it off the shelves.

We're not too pleased about it. My spouse is having to order her allergy medicine from other states online.

#11 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2006, 11:58 PM:

Somewhere in my effects still lingers a slim volume called The 'Private Eye' Book of Pseuds, published in the 1970s, along with lingering happy memories of it. Checking online, I've just learnt there is also a Psecond Book of Pseuds, both edited by Richard Ingrams.

Hence my quite strange reaction to glimpsing a sign on my local pharmacy window proudly proclaiming their participation in 'PseudoWatch'. Luckily the pharmacist was also familiar with the Pseud usage, and joined my amusement.

Here's a quick summary of similar pseudoephedrine schemes in Australia, called PseudoWatch and PseudoStop, from the Pharmacy Guild site.

#12 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:08 AM:

Why so skeptical? Consider: We used to be able to buy over-the-counter cough medicine that worked really well, but people sometimes got addicted to it, so we banned it--and now, presto, nobody ever gets addicted to opiates anymore.

I'm sure it'll work just as well this time.

#13 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:18 AM:


I mean, given the neighbourhood I live in, I am rather stoutly AGIN home based meth labs, on account of the housefires really DO get severely tedious and distressing, but.

For all love, you could restrict bulk sales and have done. IIRC, we're putting the stuff behind the counter here without restricting quantity, and that seems to have been deemed sufficient.

Ok, yes, I know. Gangsters. There is no wonderful solution, but surely there are least harm compromises, and this isn't striking me as one of them.

I'm not touching the Patriot Act angle. I gave up crossing the border and will now apparently be giving up flying over US airspace so that I wouldn't have to try to understand that filthy object, so all I can really say is 'that's bloody disgusting', and someone else will be along shortly to say that more eloquently and intelligently than I can.

#14 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:32 AM:

mcubed: The "low-cost alternatives to pseudoephedrine" are not as effective decongestants. Cost is not the only measure of a medicine. (The alternatives seem to work as well for some people. But they don't work as well for everyone, and they don't work at all for some people who find pseudoephedrine very effective.)

When you say "so far it looks like it's effective," what do you mean? Is the price of meth in Oregon going up, so addicts have to commit more crimes to get each fix? Or are young drug abusers turning to more accessible drugs? I won't attribute any glue-sniffing deaths to clumsy attempts to stomp on the meth supply chain. It's more complicated than that.

Some addicts want to stop using (meth or other drugs), but need intensive support to break the addiction. Someone who recognizes this, and applies for a rehab program through health insurance or the state, faces a long wait (during which time it's common to give up and relapse into addiction - I'm not thinking of Oregon in particular, here, but I don't expect them to be very different from MI, NY, IL, or MA.) Is Oregon trying to support more/better rehab programs and such, or just fighting the supply? If they're working both sides of the problem, and seeing results, which side do they credit?

#15 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:32 AM:

Since I live in what is apparently the "Meth Capital of the Midwest" (tm), we've had these controls. You have to go ask a pharmacist for sudafed and they will give you what they can if you pass muster. Whatever that is. When I could still take it, I didn't have a problem with that.

A house within a 1/4 mile of ours when we lived further south in the 'burbs blew up because of meth. It knocked at least one neighbor's house off it's foundation, rendering it destroyed for all purposes and intents.

I ain't got a problem with that control by a pharmicist. Especially since I live in a nice, forested neighborhood in what amounts to 'urbia,' within 5 minutes of our downtown. In a very nice 3-story home with a full basement that many of you would cheerfullly strangle me when you found out how much we paid (not) for it...

One of the things my doctor impressed on me when I was diagnosed with hypertesion was 'avoid sudafed at all costs.'
I've pretty much stuck with that, and for most allergic symptoms, a regular dose of generic benedryl fixes it anyway for me. If it gets more severe, Claritin works too.

Since Meth Lab = toxic waste dump, I'd really rather just live with the law.

#16 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 01:16 AM:

I've heard sensible arguments for and against banning over-the-counter sale of Sudafed. I don't know what the right answer is. There's room for reasonable discussion about thsi question.

But that's not Patrick's point. His point, which I agree with, is: that discussion never happened. Instead, the ban appeared (does anyone even know who put it in, and how?) in what was supposedly an emergency anti-terrorism bill. None of the discussions of this bill mentioned this provision, which, on its face, seems to have very little to do with terrorism. There was no debate on whether banning over-the-counter sale of Sudafed was a good idea, and I strongly suspect that even most of the people in Congress who voted for the bill containing that ban didn't realize that the ban was included in it.

The process by which laws get written and passed in this country is badly broken if this kind of thing can happen.

#17 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 01:22 AM:

I think the principal objection I have is that this particular subclause has absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism, which was the ostensible reason for the PATRIOT Act in the first place. It's become, like so much other legislation, the repository for wish list items, in this case the DOJ's want-to-haves.

If they want to control pseudoephedrine, write a law that does it. I'll bet this version of PATRIOT is 800 pages long and has multiple Easter eggs of this nature in it, and the general public won't know about them until some enterprising journalist or NGO staffer digs through it. The obfuscation and secrecy is what bothers me.

#18 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 01:22 AM:

The thing is, Paula, will the law actually cut down on manufacture or use of methamphetamine?

I don't know how much sudafed is needed to feed a lab large enough to blow up a house; are these labs really normally supplied by buying sudafed over the counter? I'm sure there are "hobbyist" labs dealing in smaller amounts, but I suspect the people making large quantities don't get their supplies retail.

(On preview, what Matt said)

#19 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 01:23 AM:

I see Matt and I were thinking along the same lines.

#20 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 01:25 AM:

I'd like to add a parallel note of complaint: meth-lab concerns have caused the near-disappearance of Red Devil solid lye from stores. (None of the local groceries, hardware stores, or general bigbox retailers carry it anymore.) While there are certainly other drain-cleaners that clean drains just as well, none of them are a calibrated source of sodium hydroxide such as would be useful for making soap, which I do for a hobby. While this is a minor annoyance for me, it's a major stumbling block for people who make soap as a cottage industry.

Mind you, I gather it's still possible for private individuals to order multi-kg quantities of pure sodium hydroxide from industrial suppliers. Not quite as handy as getting the little 1-lb canisters, esp. since the stuff goes hygroscopic when stored improperly, but hey. I expect my mini-hoard to last through several more years of small-scale soap batches, so at least I'm set.

#21 ::: Alexey Merz ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 03:46 AM:

There's also the not-insignificant fact that pseudoephedrine is not patent protected. A major factor here is that the pharma industry would not be bent out of shape if the only decent decongestants available all had another 5-8 years left under patent...

#22 ::: Ilona ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 06:15 AM:

I really, really hate this law. And I hate the one that limits purchase of cold medication. It's very simple: four people are sick, two adults, two children. Meaning, I need to buy 2 packs Advil cold pills, 1 bottle of purple kid medicine, 1 bottle of Nyquil. I can buy any two but not all four or three. I am basically forced to either choose between medicine for kids or adults, or between being able to work and being able to sleep. Or, :gasp: I can go through the check out the second time and get all of my crap.

It's a stupid law. It doesn't prevent people from getting Sudafed. It just forces the bulk purchases to spread their buys all over town and it causes mothers no end of frustration.

#23 ::: Ilona ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 06:16 AM:

I really, really hate this law. And I hate the one that limits purchase of cold medication. It's very simple: four people are sick, two adults, two children. Meaning, I need to buy 2 packs Advil cold pills, 1 bottle of purple kid medicine, 1 bottle of Nyquil. I can buy any two but not all four or three. I am basically forced to either choose between medicine for kids or adults, or between being able to work and being able to sleep. Or, :gasp: I can go through the check out the second time and get all of my crap.

It's a stupid law. It doesn't prevent people from getting Sudafed. It just forces the bulk purchasers to spread their buys all over town and it causes mothers no end of frustration.

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 07:06 AM:

It just forces the bulk purchases to spread their buys all over town and it causes mothers no end of frustration.

Kind of reverse smurfing, then.

#25 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 07:10 AM:

We're in MN as well, and I actually wouldn't have as much of a problem with this if the retailers hadn't turned into such fncking pantywaists. Sure, it's irritating now having to wait behind 4 people at the Pharmacy, 3 of them being dear, sweet elderly ladies, confused about which tiny green pill to take before dinner and which after (but my ice cream is meltin' here). But what really chaps me is that the selection has disappeared. A few years ago I could saunter into Target and buy me a couple of 14,328-count boxes of generic Pseudoephedrine for roughly .23 cents each, and if I could manage to wedge them both into my trunk to get them home, I'd be set for a few months. Now I get the Pharmie giving me the fisheye if I dare to ask for more than one box of 6-count brand name Sudafed (which is all they have), selling for roughly my take-home for the week. With my wretched sinuses and allergies, I end up taking at least 6 a day over and above my prescription junk just to make it through the day without wanting to pop my head right off'n my neck. Heck, the DEA goons are probably watching my house as we speak.
Yes, I'm being flip - but honestly, there should be better control mechanisms.

#26 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 07:47 AM:

Oops - should have said at the height of the mold season I have to take at least 6 a day plus my prescription.

Mary - you're absolutely correct. In Minnesota at least, the rural mini-lab busts have decreased steadily since the restrictions went into force. By most estimates however, the usage has not decreased because the availability of Mexican meth just increased to meet the demand. We're also seeing the expected increase in related gang activity.

...and mcubed? That new Sudafed PE non-pseudo krep? Well, I hope it works for someone, doesn't do squat for me.

#27 ::: rams ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:31 AM:

Yep, the Holbein Thomas More hangs in my living room, and right now he's not looking very happy. (On the other hand, when he hung in the dining room he was facing the kitchen and his expression suggested you didn't want to know what was going on in there.)

#28 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:50 AM:

Given the healthy state of the meth industry in Tennessee, these provisions would warm the cockles of the hearts of all 95 county sheriffs, plus the police chiefs and the people at the TBI. Of course, losing the meth labs just means acquiring Mexican meth, which I find a less desirable important than, say, those Abuelita-brand chocolate hexagons for making proper Mexican-style hot chocolate. We'll get foreign illegal drugs in exchange for some of our newer toxic waste sites--such a deal!
I don't mind asking the pharmacist for a reasonable supply (and, like Melody and Ilona, my reasonable supply and the law's reasonable supply are likely to be two different quantities). I don't mind the liquigel capsules of real pseudephedrine they're marketing, these being harder to convert to meth but still pretty effective for their proper use. I do not like the replacement drugs. They don't work as well, at least not for me, and for my housemate, they combine the sensation of itchy paranoia she gets from virtually all decongestants with a complete lack of decongestant effect--the worst of both worlds, so to speak.

I'd like to propose a new war, since these are so popular these days--I'd like a War on Stupid.

#29 ::: Grant Barrett ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:53 AM:

I'm one of the people this affects. I have 11 different so-called pseudoephedrine replacements in my medicine cabinet. I tried them all and none of them work as well. Many cause drowsiness (even the supposedly non-drowsy formulas), some cause light-headededness, others interfere with sleep, or, most commonly, too many of them don't work at all for me.

In New York City it's already difficult to find the house brand pseudoephedrine in many stores. Duane Reade, for one, now seems only to carry the Sudafed brand--and it's 30 to 50 percent more expensive, depending on the store and the quantity of pills per package. It's expensive.

Rite Aid is one of several chains that now makes you ask for the drug and fill out a sheet of paper with your name and contact information. It means I can still get the cheaper house-brand version of pseudoephedrine, but in EVERY case, I've had to wait in line in at the pharmacy when there was just one person working and a line in front of me. What should be a 60-second purchase takes anywhere from seven to 19 minutes. Now, perhaps I'm just the epitome of the impatient New Yorker, but I sometimes think I would rather have my lungs fill up with mucous and go to the hospital ten days later when it turns into bronchitis than wait IN ANOTHER DAMNED LINE. (Forgive me for key-shouting, but the asthma means I can't vocalize as loud as I want to.)

This is all besides the civil liberty issues: I should not have to register and present identification in order to take many chronic health problems. There's no clearer way to say it: it's wrong and it's un-American. Jerks.

#30 ::: Grant Barrett ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:56 AM:

Please forgive the errors. It's hard to type while flipping the double bird.

#31 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 09:19 AM:

What's really sad is that this assertion in the news piece is false:
"methamphetamine … cannot be manufactured without a key ingredient of everyday cold and allergy medicines."
Umm, no. It certainly requires more careful lab technique and a better chemist (using better equipment) to create any amphetamine from other feedstock, but it's not exactly the toughest synthesis around. It doesn't even require difficult-to-obtain equipment.

The "hard" part is purifying the result. Of course, from what I've seen, that's not exactly a high priority for these people in the first place.

What appears to be much tougher to produce is historicalperspectivicine, a mind-altering substance synthesized from a precise conformation of lampblack, linseed or soybean oils, and bleached cellulose fibers. However, the current generation of politicians has almost succeeded in wiping out consumption of historicalperspectivicine in the regions surrounding most state and national capitals, perhaps due to its own allergies.

#32 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 09:55 AM:

C.E. Petit wrote:
What appears to be much tougher to produce is historicalperspectivicine, a mind-altering substance synthesized from a precise conformation of lampblack, linseed or soybean oils, and bleached cellulose fibers. However, the current generation of politicians has almost succeeded in wiping out consumption of historicalperspectivicine in the regions surrounding most state and national capitals, perhaps due to its own allergies.

You all may consider this a communication from Beyond the Veil, becase after I read that, I died from the laughing. Maybe I was just susceptible to really outstanding snark this morning, but...

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 10:50 AM:

Last month when I bought house-brand Sudafed-equivalent at the drugstore (Long's), I only had to ask the pharmacist (and hand over the little stock slip, like the valuable items at Office Depot); it's behind the counter. I didn't have to sign for it or provide ID. I don't know what kind of quantity meth-cookers need, but if it's more than 100, I'm not yet inconvenienced.

As for burying it in an unrelated bill, that's how a lot of Easter eggs get through. They've been doing this sort of thing for years, even though they shouldn't be.

#34 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 11:29 AM:

Here in Indianapolis last month, I had to sign for my Actifed, show photo ID, and can only get a limited supply at one time.

I begin to think, esp. in view of something I sent to Teresa in email the other day, that there's a bizarre new war on OTC and valid perscription drugs. I can't figure out if it's based on a right-wing virtuecrat "You shouldn't need drugs to solve your problems, and they aren't problems anyway, so buck up" theory or a left-wing nanny state, "We know what's best for you and it's our job to protect you, so we have to take your right to have this thing away from you" theory. But it doesn't seem to matter, really, as the end result is going to be the same.

Good thing I've got Grandma's recipe for chicken soup...though I don't know what I'll do when poultry is outlawed in order to protect us from avian flu.

#35 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 11:43 AM:

At, their 360 Blog has a thread on ADHD and drugs. They're taking comments. It's divided between the 'drugs are bad' and 'drugs are good' views, including a few people who claim they don't need drugs for their ADHD any more, and all you need is better organization. (That view makes me wonder about their diagnoses!)

#36 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:10 PM:

I don't know when or how the rider banning OTC Sudafed got attached to the Patriot Act, but from my perspective--living in a rural Sierra Nevada county and at one time having a meth lab two doors down the street--I'm damn glad someone got off the proverbial dime in trying to halt easy access to large quantities of Sudafed. Meth continues to have a serious impact on communities and families in my region, and it is ridiculously easy to manufacture. The Oregonian ran an informative five-part series on Meth. Check it out.

#37 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:11 PM:

I'm not allowed to take ANY decongestants at all. I can only take certain antihistimines, but decongestants are banned outright. When I have a sinus headache, I have two alternatives: black pepper soup, or lie in bed moaning. Shiatsu sometimes helps.

This is no reason for causing suffering to those of you whose bodies CAN tolerate them, of course. Can you still buy Ephedra at the herb store?

OTOH, I'll tell you the advantage of MexMeth over homegrown: fewer houses blowing up in your neighborhood. Few iodine toxified houses abandoned too. (One way to check if a place has been used as a meth lab is to spray starch on the walls...they turn purple if there's been a meth lab there, because the walls get coated with iodine. Thank you, CSI.) Somewhat fewer drug-gang killings. And methmakers usually can't resist sampling their product...often to excess, so: fewer drug-crazed lunatics on your street.

Also, the methmakers really do buy their Sudafed at retail. It's the safest way to get it.

I hate the USA PATRIOT Act. I think the whole thing should be repealed.

But speaking of riders to bills, yesterday the Congressional Appropriations Committee voted 6-2 to ban the Dubai Ports World deal. They attached this as an amendment to a spending bill that's a must-pass for Dubya. While I don't agree with their solution, it does have two good effects: it puts the WPE in a forked stick like the snake he is (sorry, snakes), and it sends him a very clear message about the line-item veto!

#38 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:24 PM:

Sarah S., I think (or at least my now-flourishing case of paranoia does) that it would be closer to the mark to say that the "right-wing virtuecrat 'You shouldn't need drugs to solve your problems, and they aren't problems anyway, so buck up' theory or a left-wing nanny state, 'We know what's best for you and it's our job to protect you, so we have to take your right to have this thing away from you' theory" are both being used to sell a corporatist agenda that can be summed up as "All these old cheap drugs we aren't making as much money on, especially with the competition from generics, have got to go, so that people will have no choice but to use the new, expensive stuff we're making."

Please note that a lot of Donald Rumsfeld's worklife outside of government has been in the pharmaceutical industry.

Also, if there's more than just my nasty suspicious mind behind that supposed corporatist agenda, it will be entertaining to watch it go mano-a-mano with the health insurance/HMO crowd, whose corporate agenda has long included the idea "Older drugs, especially generic ones, are GOOD, because they are CHEAPER!!!!!!CHEAP IS GOOD!!!11!!!"

#39 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 12:35 PM:

(The alternatives seem to work as well for some people. But they don't work as well for everyone, and they don't work at all for some people who find pseudoephedrine very effective.)

This sounds familiar, doesn't it?

#40 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 02:16 PM:

Y'know, folks, I don't see any real difference between left-wing "We'll take this away because we know what's good for you" and right-wing "We'll take this away because we know what's bad for you".

Just sayin'.

#41 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 02:19 PM:

This isn't either of those cases, Renee.

This is a case of "We don't want you to know all you need to know to decide for yourself."

#42 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 02:57 PM:

I'd say it's more of a case of 'If you knew the facts, you wouldn't understand them', Stefan. Then the left-wing/right-wing justification, as appropriate.

#43 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 04:03 PM:

What's the harm?
1. Friend #1-- lives in a rural county, she, husband and children are all prone to sinusitis. If they all get colds at once, she can only buy a few days supply at a time. They normally go shopping every 10 days, because its a long trip to the nearest stores.

Being in a rural area she knows the dangers of meth and meth labs, but there's a cruel irony in being forced to drive while sick on roads filled with meth-addled truckers so that she's protected against meth-addled truckers.

2. Friend #2-- allergic to certain red dyes. She's been told that the reason it is close to impossible to find dye-free sudafed is because of the W.o.d. Her new HMO does carry one type of dye-free generic, but if she's out traveling or switches HMO's, trouble.

3. "low cost"? We've forgotten how pseudoephedrine used to be as cheap as aspirin, available in four month supplies from Costco. When talking about the 'low cost' of pseudoephedrine competitors, we shouldn't be comparing them to the cost of the small-box blister packs we have to buy now.

4. I'll guess that some people in the w.o.d. were disappointed when

"Pseudoephedrine, a generic drug sold over the counter, is just as effective in treating hay fever as the prescription drug Singulair, a new study has found"

"The researchers hypothesized that each drug would work well for nasal congestion, but that Singulair would also control runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. They thought that pseudoephedrine would have more unpleasant side effects.

"But each drug proved effective for all four symptoms, and neither had significant side effects. The only difference was that pseudoephedrine appeared to be slightly better than Singulair at relieving nasal congestion."

5. If you find that a medicine is 90% effective vs. being 80% effective, it might not seem like a big deal. But what if reduced symptoms are the difference between an A and a B in school, or an Excellent vs. Performs To Standards in a job review?

For some people, of certain classes, having a C average or being just average isn't a barrier to promotions. They might not be too empathetic to who you ask to be collateral damage in the War on Drugs.

If the generals of the WoD think about collateral damage at all-- do they? Nice thing about these non-war-wars is that they can pick and choose which analogies they'll apply. They can simultaneously ignore war-concepts like "protect the civilians" and ignore non-war concepts like "cost benefit analysis."

#44 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 04:24 PM:

Renee, that's way too broad a generalization to classify as the left-wing view.

I'm big on Sudafed. It's the only OTC decongestant I can take without turning into a mindless mumbling lump of protoplasm. All those other decongestants that just make the rest of you drowsy are debilitating for someone who has narcolepsy.

Phenylpropanolamine (Dexatrim) has been banned. Cylert is no longer being manufactured. Ritalin and Sudafed are under attack. Darvon, which is also under attack, is the odd man out in that list: it's not a stimulant.

What's going on here?

We're not being told the truth. As Charlie Petit pointed out, you don't need Sudafed to make amphetamine. Speed is not hard to make. Sudafed just makes it a little easier. And since there's an established market for the stuff, I think I can confidently predict that it will get made, or imported.

Prices are going to go up, and the wholesalers and retailers are going to get nastier. We've been having a bunch of small-scale domestic manufacturers cooking speed in (figuratively) their own back yards. If the stuff's coming in from other countries, or if manufacturing operations are now going to require more equipment and expertise, it's farewell to the little amateur meth labs, hello to professional organized crime.

But let's say, just for the sake of the argument, that speed has gotten to be such a big problem that we have to do something about it. Why is it being made part of the lastest version of the Patriot Act? This is domestic drug policy. It has nothing to do with terrorism. Why can't we pass normal laws about it in the normal way?

I'm suspicious. If this is all on the up-and-up, how come they're lying to us about pseudoephedrine being a necessary precursor of amphetamine?

Finally, why isn't anyone talking about the weird social patterns displayed by growth of amphetamine manufacture and use over the last decade or so? It hasn't been driven by drugged-out bohemians, college students, or the other usual suspects. When I first heard about it starting up, it was in places like Texarkana and the Intermountain West. This is coming out of working America: grass roots, flyover states, pickup trucks, beauty parlors, industrial parks, downgraded jobs, creeping unemployment, and a social safety net that mostly consists of permanently overloaded credit cards.

I saw a statistic some years back that said that the average amount of disposable personal time per capita has fallen 20% since the 1970s. Raise your hand if you actually work nine to five, five days and forty hours.

#45 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 04:35 PM:

Raise your hand if you actually work nine to five, five days and forty hours.

Hand raised (try 7:30 to 4, half-hour lunch), but as a contract employee
(1) I don't get OT, and
(2) My job is 12 months on and 6 off.
The 'on' part is nice - my unofficial employer pays decently - but the 'off' part is difficult.

#46 ::: Michael Falcon-Gates ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 04:37 PM:

On the "pseudoephedrine isn't necessary to make meth" front: My sister, trained as a chemical engineer, is an idiot about men. One of her slimy boyfriends decided to set up a meth lab in her basement. He was going to use the usual "cook Sudafed into meth" recipe, until she gave him a process that did *not* require pseudoephedrine. What she didn't tell him, but did know, is that any idiot can make meth the Sudafed way, but the ways that don't start with Sudafed require skill and good lab technique. Slimy boyfriend never did manage to actually make any meth.

She's not an idiot about anything *else*, just men.

#47 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 04:38 PM:

What You Said, Kathryn.

#48 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 04:46 PM:

Just as a datapoint, they've been restricting sales here in WV, and last I heard (from our public radio station), the number of meth labs dropped significantly.

That said, this did not belong in the Patriot Act. Restricting sales of sudafed (et al) may well be effective for decreasing the number of meth labs, but it has nothing to do with terrorism.

I also have to wonder why it was addressed on a national level, when so many of the states with meth lab problems have been taking steps on their own to control sales.

#49 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 06:01 PM:

I don't know whether this means I'm more paranoid than you or less, Teresa, but, for what it's worth, my theory is: nobody is lying to us about the reasons for banning Sudafed. The politicians who are writing these bans are doing it because they think it will help to prevent homebrew speed, or at least they think it will look like it's helping to prevent homebrew speed. I'm not sure I'd call this a good-faith belief (my guess is that they haven't spent five minutes thinking about it, and I don't see how you can call thoughlessness good faith), but at any rate I don't think it's a deliberate lie.

As for why they can't just pass this law the normal way? Well, here's where my paranoia comes in: I think the process by which Federal US laws get written today is so badly broken that Congress has forgotten there is any other way. Why not just slip in a rider at midnight in the House-Senate conference? It's easy, it's convenient, and, by today's standards, it is normal.

#50 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 06:40 PM:

If its possible to classify medical-actions as left-wing or right-wing (vs. science-based, say) then the pseudoephedrine issue goes solidly into the right-wing camp. In fact, I blame the creationists.

Why? Because if you believe in evolution, then the idea that you might permanently have to take a medicine to deal with bad body design makes sense. Our sinuses were 'designed' for quadrupeds, and our immune system for a permanent war on parasites.

If instead you're a creationist, you have to believe that our original sinuses were designed for bipeds, and our immune system for life without parasites. We who live without parasites (first time since the garden of eden, no?) should be doing better by way of our IgE.

Medicines to correct design flaws insult the designer, it seems. Certainly the debates over anasthetics and childbirth brought those attitudes out.

Meds for chronic pain, distraction and ADD, benzos for stress... from an evolutionary standpoint no one should care- that is, no one should be insulted- by our motivations to take these medicines. Nature dealt us a bad hand, we exchange those cards for a better (1) hand. To some extent we even get to define what makes a better hand- its our game.

If instead the hand we've been dealt is a gift from the creator, trading it in has downfalls. Letting other people trade in theirs? Also risky.

(1) Sure, plenty of our meds have problems. If benzos are addictive, for example, then we ought to be designing nonaddictive ones (and we are).

Meds may at times may just be shortcuts to what we could get with hard work: but sometimes we need shortcuts. (Hiking is good for you, but you don't hike to the hospital.) So say if you're being hit by a heavy fight-or-flight response as you're about to make life-changing decisions in a hospital, then bypassing your stress response is useful. Life-saving, even.

#51 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 06:59 PM:

To the people who are saying "Meth labs blew up my neighbors house."

You are, what we, in the snobbish internet world call NIMBYs (that's "Not In My Back Yard"). That... is not... a compliment. Or, you COULD be even worse... the NIYBYE (Not In Your Back Yard Either).

Your argument for this law is that you personally don't want to be caught in an explosion. That's very nice. (Patronizing tone intended). Fighting drug production is like playing whack-a-mole, except it costs more than a quarter each round. I mean, thank GOD we finally scared the Colombian nacro-cartels into Ecuador! Whew, that was a relief. And thank GOD that we're going to soften our above-board trade deficit by exporting our psuedoephedrine to Canada/Mexico/Anywhere at all.

As far as it being in the PATRIOT act... well, you know... international terrorism clearly plays a large roll in the domestic purchase and production of drugs. I mean... with all these people producing Meth from Sudafed, that many more people will be hooked on Afghani Opium! (Oh wait, I forgot the Afghanistan is firmly in hand, and those Opium farms are in accordance with U.S. policy)

I'm not coherent on any political topics anymore, I just ooze disgust... I need to stop trying.

#52 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 07:00 PM:

Teresa --

I think you're seeing a conflation of a bunch of things -- an honest (but incompetent) authoritarian response to a drug problem, an inability to address why there's this particular drug problem, a desire to convert the republic into an imperial form of government manifesting itself in small part as a willingness to treat legislation as a bureaucratic rules requirement rather than a political necessity, a dishonest authoritarian response combined with a real desire to squash the idea of the medical utility of science -- the Dominionists do not want to deal with what medicine is on the ragged edge of being able to do[1] -- and another dishonest authoritarian response that may see this as a test case for how to go about banning birth control. Plus, of course, the bizarre intersection of faith-based reality maps, the idea of taking drugs, and for-profit health care; note that all of those drugs can be viewed, with a sufficiently twisted outlook, as enabling women to work outside the home.

[1] there are a half-dozen adults walking around Toronto who have had major skeletal elements regenerated in situ. This is a test project now, but it's not going to stay that way.

There's real hope of growing people new kidneys; there's real hope that the researcher who identified how to turn off aging in mice will be able to map the same genes in people.

But to do it, you've got to believe in evolution, the supremacy of reason, and the animal nature of mankind.

Oh, and the efficacy of medical science, which is oddly what seems to be under attack.

#53 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 07:05 PM:

and not to say that there aren't left-wing attacks on medicine (for example Pblc Ctzn wouldn't generally be classified as right-wing) and that this isn't a complex issue.

But for me, now, a carefully nuanced essay'd be a form of procrastination. And I was just reading about a recent poll on creationism in the US, so I wish to pour heaps of snark in their general direction. I also blame creationists for MRSA and for heroin not being available in hospices.

#54 ::: Alexey Merz ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 07:46 PM:

Kathryn, as repulsed as I am by creationists, the rise of MRSA has a great deal more to do with farmers who pour vast quantities of antibiotics into feed stocks and pharma companies that promote this practice, patients who demand antibiotics whether they are necessary or not, doctors who prescribe them when they know (or should know) better, and entire nations that allow people to purchase critical antibiotics over the counter without prescription or instruction.

This is an issue that *really* gets my underthings in a bunch.

#55 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:01 PM:

I'd argue that all of these causes exist to some degree because of creationism.

If you *know* that bacteria evolve and that a human body (or a herd of cows) is an ecosystem, then you know that taking antibiotics is the sort of environmental change that drives evolution.

If you don't know this, then you're less likely to care what you or other people do with antibiotics.

#56 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:15 PM:

Sorry, Scott, but the sarcasm falls flat for those of us who live where meth is a real issue. Although meth labs blowing up houses is indeed a concern, that concern is quite modest in relation to how this (highly addictive) drug devastates users and their families. Accordingly, it can also put a serious strain on local criminal justice systems and publically-financed social services--not an insignificant concern either when you consider rural town and county budgets are often already stretched to the limit. And the wastes from labs can create significant environmental impacts. That the feds are now looking to give us a bit of help (although it ain't enough) is truly welcome in my neck of the woods--those of us in local gov't have been pleading for assistance, and by gosh it looks like someone in DC has heard us.

#57 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:18 PM:

Kathryn, I have little love or tolerance for creationists, but you're stretching that meme past the point of usefulness.

People abuse antibiotics because they're careless and short-sighted and ignorant.

#58 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 08:38 PM:

Well, yes... I brought up that meme
1. in a state of snark
2. in trying to address how a certain type of religious and conservative attitude could affect how we approach medicine.
I don't actually think creationists per se have much to do with sudafed or with heroin's availability in hospices.

But, but, are people who don't believe in evolution more likely to be careless, short-sighted and ignorant wrt antibiotics? Sure seems likely. Where does that ignorance of science come from? Why don't other people worry more about bad behavior in taking antibiotics?

I know that bacteria can evolve resistance to chemicals they've never seen before because I've seen it happen. Some types of creationists don't believe that's even possible, because its a form of creating new information. (link to the infinite number of debates on

But this is getting way away from terrorism and drug policy.

#59 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 09:10 PM:

Richard: Thank you. You have just stopped me saying something regrettable.

I love my downtown, largely new-Canadian, rather poor neighbourhood. I do. I chose to live here, and I love it here, and I like my neighbours.

We've already got chronic overcrowding, two major area landlords in court over poor firecode compliance, a recurrent crackhouse with all the street trouble that brings, intermittent issues with having the sex trade driven out of the Market and into our area (I am very proud of my neighbours, who showed up en masse at a council meeting to demand, not the removal of the sex workers to some other neighbourhood, but BETTER SUPPORT AND SERVICES FOR THEM in the area), and the consequences of three recent very bad fires, all of which put people who were already living in really marginal situations on the street and one of which killed five people, to deal with.

They busted the meth lab before it caught fire. And I do not want it back. I don't want meth houses in ANYONE's block, but I can't actually control what happens on every street in the world.

#60 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2006, 11:31 PM:

What Richard Said.

Meth addiction is a real problem, and home-brew meth production is a real problem; bad in itself and feeds the larger issue. Both need to be addressed. If an easy fix solves the latter, I say go for it.

That said, I do not like the fact that these measure were tied into the Patriot Act.

* * *

Info nugget: Pseudoephedrine isn't the only ingredient labs need that is the subject of trafficking. A few months back a rural vetrinary supply shop was busted for selling too damn much iodine. Hundreds of gallons of the stuff, more than local farmers would use in years.

Then there's anhydrous ammonia theft...

#61 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 12:47 AM:

Xopher wrote:

"I'm not allowed to take ANY decongestants at all. I can only take certain antihistimines, but decongestants are banned outright. When I have a sinus headache, I have two alternatives: black pepper soup, or lie in bed moaning. Shiatsu sometimes helps."

Since I have my own reasons for avoiding pseudofed (family joke here - why can't we get real fed for our colds?), here are some things I've tried that ease me when I'm congested:

Mentholatum rubbed under your nose in big globs (works better if you don't have moustache - my husband may yet forgive me for putting it on his).

Steam - you can spend money on a fancy little steamer at the drug store, or you can put a kettle on the stove and drape your head & the kettle with a towel, being careful not to set the towel on fire, of course.

Hot-as-you-can-stand-it damp wash cloth on your nose and sinuses.

Hot tea or other hot liquid - vast quantities

Massage, as you mentioned. I find this works even better if the masseuse uses a lavendar scented oil. That really clears the sinuses.

Cold-eeze tablets (the zinc lozenges) really do work to minimize a cold (at least for me, so far) if you can take them.

Hope this helps.

#62 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 01:33 AM:

To add to the Xopher recommendations, I sometimes put a heating pad on my sinuses, and back when I was well, I hung upside down for a while.

#63 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 06:37 AM:

Another recommendation: eucalyptus steam. It does have to be handled carefully, and you can't put it directly into the kettle unless you don't want to use the kettle for anything else. It's been my last line of defense against sinus infections for several years.

#64 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 09:34 AM:

Alexey wrote: "and pharma companies that promote this practice"

Could you give us specifics on this one? I work for big pharma and the attitude I have seen could be described as, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING!?!?!?!"

On the issue of actually making meth - is synthesis from toluene or phenol really that much of a challenge? Time for someone to do a remake of "Kid Charlemagne" I guess.

#65 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 10:39 AM:

And another sinus tip: the neti pot.

You fill the 8 oz. pot up with warm water, add a 1/4 teaspoon of NON-IODIZED salt, put your head over the sink, turn it so your nose is parallel to the ground, and run the water from one nostril, through the sinuses, and out the other nostril. Repeat on the other side.

It washes out all the bacteria, snot, viruses, etc., and I've found it helps cut down on my allergies (year round). I've also kicked a multiple antibiotic resistant sinus infection by neti potting 2-3 times daily, lots of liquid, lots of sleep, and lots of hot liquid.

#66 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 02:57 PM:

Teresa: Are you saying "We'll take this away because we know what's bad for you" is a good generalization of the right-wing point of view?

I don't think so. My point in making that parallel is that both 'wings' end up at the same point for strikingly similar reasons: both sides want to improve society by eliminating something they see as both unnecessary and damaging.

What I believe is the real problem (and this ties into the discussion of antibiotic over-use) is that neither side is looking far enough ahead to the consequences. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I would like a pony.) It's easy to see a logic chain of, say, 'Ban Cylert, drop the incidence of liver failures in children', than to see one that branches into 'Ban Cylert, drop the incidence of liver failures in children, deprive effective medication to an unknown number of adult ADHD/heart patients, deprive an unknown number of adult narcoleptics of effective medication'. Only the first consequence--the one involving poor, innocent, big-eyed angelic children--gets mentioned. The others aren't, and as far as I can tell, the people dealing with these bans didn't even look for them.

Ditto antibiotics; here, there's a 'get me well!' attitude warring with a 'suffer for society' attitude. Never mind that the pill won't help you; if you think it will, then you want it. NOW.

The meth stuff is the same again, with 'houses blow up!!!' vs. 'going through the till twice'. Which do you think will get more attention--and better PR, while we're at it?

Neither side is looking much further than one or two steps ahead. Quick fixes look good when an election is coming up. Banning Sudafed is good because it makes meth harder to make--which ought to make meth harder to get, which ought to make fewer meth addicts. Which is all false reasoning, because the only proven part of that logic chain is 'makes meth harder to make'.

One prop I will give left-wingers over right-wingers: they're more likely to ask the question you asked: why is meth being used at all? However, the long lead times between asking the question, finding a solution, implementing same, and seeing results, usually makes the lefties look way too ineffectual for our 'I want it NOW!' society.

It took ten years for violent crime statistics to drop after Roe vs. Wade, and the conservatives still don't believe the two are related. I'd hazard there's a good portion of the liberals who don't believe it, either. After all, that's not what Roe vs. Wade was *for*.

People are people. Whichever side of the political fence you're on, you both want what's best for everyone. The only real differences are your definition of what 'best' means, and what justification you'll use to achieve it.

(Come to think of it, I want wings on my pony, too.)

#67 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 03:32 PM:

Can I second the neti-pot? Wonderful device.

Also I have found that Airborne works as a decongestant for me. As I have hypertension, I cannot take pseudoephedrine either.

Another possibility -- Mucinex, which is OTC guaiaphenesin (sp). AFAICT it's just supposed to be an expectorant. Why it works as a decongestant for me, I don't know...

#68 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 03:39 PM:

Renee, according to the text that opens this thread, the Sudafed rider didn't ban the drug, it merely made Sudafed somewhat more difficult to obtain. (This is assuming the rider hasn't struck from the bill or otherwise modified.)

Dunno if there's any "false reasoning" going on with regard to the rider -- clearly, the assumption (and, in my opinion, the reality) is that ease of manufacture has led to ease of access and thus addiction. Conversely, if meth becomes harder to make, then access to the drug becomes more difficult (everything else being equal) and the rate of growth in the population of tweakers will decline. The percentage they represent of the population at large might fall, too. But one don't know if this reasoning is false or true until the program is implemented and its results are analyzed.

As for asking why people use meth, is that a serious question? I don't mean to be flip, but....

#69 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 04:14 PM:

re: neti-pots--I use a similar thing called SinusRinse which is less messy than that sounds and has the salt-and-baking-soda premeasured for you. I've seen other similar devices/systems in my local drugstore. And since in the two years I've been rinsing my sinuses daily, my recurring sinus infections have almost disappeared.

--Mary Aileen

#70 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 04:18 PM:

Okay, my bad. I think I conflated the Cylert ban with the Sudafed situation. I don't take either, so the fates of both are at an intellectual remove for me.

Making meth harder to make does not equal 'rate of growth of population of tweakers will decline' or 'falling percentage of population at large', at least not in any proveable way. And Teresa (among others) has already pointed out that Mexican meth will likely fill the void left by the local manufacturers. That is, IMO, a reasonable assumption--it's economics, supply vs. demand. Simple, straight-forward, and not at all stupid.

And it cancels those 'falling percentages' and 'declines'.

And yes, 'Why do people take meth?' is a legitimate question. I don't take it, and won't choose to (I like my head the way it is, plzkthnx). I don't know anyone who takes it, and so can't ask what the fuss is about. And given that it's a growing problem, I see this as saying that more people are taking it for more reasons, which probably include 'It's fun' but spread out from there.

Or maybe the question should be, 'Why do people think they should (need to) take meth?' Enquiring mind wants to know.

#71 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 04:33 PM:

We already have something similar in place. It's made Sudafed more difficult to buy, yes, but it's made generics almost impossible to buy in some places.

No data yet on whether it's accomplished anything aside from annoying legitimate customers and their pharmacists.

#72 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 04:34 PM:

My characterizations of the left and right positions regarding OTC and prescription drug regulation were, indeed, whimsical and reductionist, and they were intentionally so.

I get much too annoyed, annoying, and Libertarian if I don't keep my whimsy switch firmly toggled to "on" when I think about issues like these.

In unrelated business: Everyone keeps telling me how wonderful Neti pots are, but I just can't help thinking that I'd feel as if I were trying to commit woefully inefficient suicide.

#73 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 04:34 PM:

Lori: Guaifanesin is just a "dry-up-the-mucus" drug. It doesn't care whether it's junk in your chest or plain ol' snot. (I always get very thirsty when I take it, too, which has the beneficial effect of making me drink lots of liquids--grapefruit juice plus fizzy water is a lovely palliative all by itself.)

#74 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 04:44 PM:

After implementing its own limits on pseudoephedrine sales, Oregon saw a significant drop in the number of meth labs.

No, this probably won't have a long-term effect on meth supply. No, it won't solve the underlying social problems. But it will mean fewer suburban homes turned into toxic waste zones, and fewer kids poisoned by their parents' home labs.

#75 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 04:58 PM:

TexAnne & Lori: As I understand it, Guaifenesin (sp?) makes your mucus more fluid, hence the need for lots of water. The decongestant effect is from the thick, sticky mucus becoming thinner and more fluid and eventually draining from where it's piled up.

I really like the stuff, and prefer it to any OTC decongestant. Sometimes I get really daring and combine it with anefrin nasal spray.

#76 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 05:32 PM:

Renee, apologies of you already know this. Although statistical analysis usually isn't able to "prove" that a gov'tal program has had a certain result, it can sometimes indicate whether said result is (or isn't) strongly related to that program. The basic model is to develop an hypothesis -- such as "Making Sudafed harder to obtain will reduce the incidence of meth usage in [x region]" -- then examine the resulting data with statistical tools that hopefully will remove the influence of other variables that might also influence the incidence of meth usage. Sometimes the data won't adequate, and sometimes the effects of those other variables will be just too confounding. But determining whether the particular hypothesis noted above is correct is going to be much easier (IMHO) than determining whether Roe v. Wade has had a statistically significant effect on violent crime.

Personally, I'm not all that interested in whether the effect of the Sudafed rider can be shown to significantly reduce meth usage. If it prevents one or two lives in my area from being destroyed (an effect that might not be revealed by statistical analysis), the inconvenience of having to wait in line to buy Sudafed will have been worthwhile. IMHO.

As for whether Mexican meth fills the gap in the market, hey, maybe it will, maybe it won't. But we at least have the opportunity to reduce the number of domestic producers; it seems absurd to turn away from that opportunity given (again, IMHO) the modest social cost involved.

An interesting question: If heroin could be produced as easily in a kitchen lab at meth, how would its usage in, say, NYC be affected?

#77 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 06:39 PM:

"Why do people take meth?" is an interesting question. "Because it's fun" is not really an adequate answer, when so many people continue to take it, knowing they are risking their lives for it. Some people's lives are so fucked up, in one way or another, that they don't care very much about risking them. That's one kind of problem. Other people are just overwhelmed because there are so many demands on their time and energy and ability to cope. They need more hours in the day, so they can sleep AND work AND go to school AND take care of their families and not feel like everything is slipping out of control. Skipping sleep and feeling in control can be tempting. That's a different kind of problem. Neither problem is addressed, at all, by making decongestants harder to get.

It troubles me to see the "war on terrorism" equated with the "war on drugs," using similar tactics that don't work very well. They're going after decongestants! Most of the decongestants sold in this country, and in the world, have NOTHING to do with meth. They're used to treat colds or sinus infections or seasonal allergies. The worst thing about them is that they tend to raise blood pressure.

But once you frame drug problems as a "war," there has to be an enemy to attack. You can't just go HELPING people who can't cope without destructive attempts to self-medicate. For drugs that are produced or imported in large quantities, it makes sense for law enforcement to go after the suppliers. It's worth spending time tracking down one of the big organized crime leaders smuggling truckloads of heroin or cocaine...that will make more of a dent in the industry than stopping hundreds of little guys. But the US meth business these days is almost all "little guys."

I'm afraid the focus on pseudephedrine, without a corresponding attempt to reduce demand for the drug, will just CHANGE the meth industry instead of making it smaller. I don't think increasing organized crime, and making desperate people more dependent on it, is a good thing. It's not good whether the organized criminals are running medium-large meth synthesis operations (without pseudephedrine) or smuggling in meth from Mexico or elsewhere.

#78 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 07:53 PM:

Adrian, we absolutely should try to reduce demand for the drug. But remember, it's addictive -- reducing demand will be difficult for those who're hooked on it. And the more easily meth can be obtained (through, say, small-scale domestic producers), the greater its incidence of usage is likely to be. Seems to me you cannot have a solution to the meth problem without at least attempting to reduce availability.

Mex meth is already here in California. Whether its suppliers can provide the drug as cheaply and readily as home labs is an open question. If, in the future, a potential meth user cannot obtain the drug as cheaply or easily as was possible prior to the regulation of Sudafed, then the rate of growth in usage might very well decline. That's the hope, at least.

#79 ::: Alexey Merz ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 08:49 PM:

Could you give us specifics on this one? I work for big pharma and the attitude I have seen could be described as, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING!?!?!?!"

Delighted to. Start here:

and here:

Tragedy of the commons in a nutshell.

#80 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 09:11 PM:

Richard Anderson:
Sorry, Scott, but the sarcasm falls flat for those of us who live where meth is a real issue.

I live in spitting distance of San Bernadino, i.e. where California makes meth. But I do appreciate you telling me that any encounters I've had with meth addicts, and meth labs have been fake. It's good to know that all of the addicted and deranged are going to wake up from my bad dream of fake problems with meth. (this paragraph distills to: ad hominem argument is for the birds, calling me an unreliable source is at most pointless, and much more likely false.)

The critical missing step in your thinking is this:
Making it more difficult to purchase psuedoephedrine IS UNLIKELY to reduce methamphetamine addiction, usage, or even especially supply. Most likely it will MOVE AROUND the supply. And it's not like I'm making things up here, it's happened a thousand times. Riverside kicked the meth-labs out ~10 years ago. Whoopee. California is now a golden paradise without meth! Or... you know... nothing happened except those labs are in San Bernadino. It was one or the other. *eyeroll*

So, again, my point is that you're asking people to make meth elsewhere, not actually fighting the problem. And if that's your goal... I'd bet that Pfizer can manufacture meth safely and cheaply.

(P.S. I'm not, in my heart, pro-legalization of meth. I'm just pointing out that the only goal that is even being worked on can be reached much more succesfully through an alternate route.)

#81 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 10:02 PM:

Why not just slip in a rider at midnight in the House-Senate conference? It's easy, it's convenient, and, by today's standards, it is normal.

Don't get me started -- one of Massachusetts's irritants right now is the Alaskan slimeball who found a conference-committee hiding place for a bill banning windfarms within 1.5 miles of shipping channels (despite no reported problems with much closer windmills in Europe). Why? Well, Massachusetts has a chance to generate a fair amount of electricity in the middle of Nantucket Sound; maybe he thinks that would drop the price of Alaskan oil?

#82 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 12:06 AM:

The meth making in Massachusetts won't stop, unless MIT and Harvard etc. get shut down, there are way too many people around, including those still in college, who've studied chemistry and see it as a challenge, or a source of income, or something to do out of curiosity.

I avoided poking my nose into being informed about the production and destribution of pharmaceuticals when I was in college, I wasn't interested in experimenting with them/using them, and didn't want to be involved if there were going to be any probes. But everyone except the hopeless naifs and metaphorically blind around -knew- that there were people synthesizing recreational drugs on bases on the spectrum of "I want to try this" to "income."

There was a big bust in Boston a few weeks ago...cutting down the supply of precursor legal over the counter drugs, isn't going to stop people making them out of the intellectual challenge to do so, who may or may not also be in it for profit along with thrills.

The legislators though tend to not comprehend those mindsets; consider DeLay, a man in Congress because he got pissed off that environment laws dared restrict his application of noxious poisons for exterminating specimens of species in/around houses that the homeowners objecte to.

Drug use has been around as long as people have, take away one drug and up pops another, meanwhile some show on ABC at 10:00 PM just having a moralizing segment on alcohol abuse and life ruination by high school girls and female college students, oh WOE! oh HORRORS!

I spent a year in Greenland, and saw alcohol abuse, abused it myself... and when I got out of Greenland, I cut WAY back on the use of alcohol, I wasn't in Greenland anymore and the environment was different. One person was hauled away sick back to the USA who turned out to be suffering from alcoholism. At least one person voluntarily checked himself into detox after leaving Thule. Most people were just able to quit the heavy drinking afer getting out of Greenland.

Different people have differing susceptibilities to different drugs, at different times in their lives/under different conditions--laws don't allow for such things, though. Compare the fellow I worked with who called himself a smoker, who hadn't had a cigarette in years and didn't feel the urge for one (he said that one day he put down the cigarette he'd been smoking, and hadn't picked up and lit another since--but he still regarded himself as a smoker) versus the more common stories of people for whom stopping/trying to stop is horrendous, and who have to fight themselves to avoid going back to smoking.

#83 ::: Jim B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 12:55 AM:

CHip: one of Massachusetts's irritants right now is the Alaskan slimeball who found a conference-committee hiding place for a bill banning windfarms within 1.5 miles of shipping channels

Congresscritters trade votes all the time. Since most of the opposition to this windfarm is coming from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Sen. Edward Kennedy, and The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, all local irritants, it seems more likely that the slmbll is doing a favor in the established congressional tradition than that he has a conspiratorial program in train.

The point about things being slipped into bills at the last minute, or things that would never pass on their own being attached to bills that must pass, is entirely valid. I kinda like the suggestion (forget who suggested) that every bill should be read aloud, in the chamber (House or Senate) in its entirety before the vote. That would certainly help keep them more concise.

To get back on topic for a minute: the government should have no business with drugs or food other than to make sure the labeling is accurate. You don't want to buy some powdery white stuff labeled "heroin" and find that it's flour, or vice versa.

#84 ::: Emily Cartier ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 02:12 AM:

Adrian, we absolutely should try to reduce demand for the drug. But remember, it's addictive -- reducing demand will be difficult for those who're hooked on it. And the more easily meth can be obtained (through, say, small-scale domestic producers), the greater its incidence of usage is likely to be. Seems to me you cannot have a solution to the meth problem without at least attempting to reduce availability.

Recall that a substantial portion of the US population is without health insurance. Recall that methamphetamine is a stimulant. If you have narcolepsy, ADD, ADHD, or other stuff I don't know about, stimulants are the standard medical treatment for your condition. If you don't have health insurance, you can't see a doctor regularly to have your medication monitored, and all the currently available treatments are either under patent or very tightly controlled so that you can't get the medication without seeing the doctor. What are the odds that a signifigant percentage of meth users are self-medicating for one of those conditions?

Next up is depression... a stimulant is not an antidepressant, but it has similar effects. For a while. It is not at all unusual for a depressed person to self medicate with stimulants. Ever looked at the statistics on the percentage of the population that experiences a major depressive episode in their lifetime?

No, having a meth lab in your neighborhood isn't good. I can understand not wanting them there (ok, as a chemist having someone with no clue as to proper lab safety synthesizing organics gives me the heebie jeebies). On the other hand, we need to understand *why* that lab is there before we can make it go away and stay away. Fixing the obvious problem of the meth lab isn't going to fix the people who are self medicating. It's not going to fix the people who think they "need" meth to get through another long haul trucking drive. It's not going to fix the single mom who thinks she "needs" something stronger than caffeine to get through the day.

The real problem with this combination of public interest group activity and lawmaker's activities is that it will *increase* demand for illegal stimulants. Is that really what we want?

#85 ::: CD318 ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 02:26 AM:

The meth making in Massachusetts won't stop, unless MIT and Harvard etc. get shut down, there are way too many people around, including those still in college, who've studied chemistry and see it as a challenge, or a source of income, or something to do out of curiosity.

The average community college organic chemistry course will teach anyone who is motivated and in the top 20%ile of scientific ability to synthesize methamphetamines, if they are so inclined and willing to take the obvious legal and hazmat risks. Anyone with abilities in the top 5% will learn enough to make really clean stuff. In other words, there will never be a shortage of master chefs, and they will always be able to find prep cooks.

Of course, the MIT lecture notes are freely available:

I am NOT advocating that ANYONE put their college chemistry to illegal or unethical uses. I am pointing out that there are millions of people in the US who already have the requisite knowledge.

#86 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 11:25 AM:

Emily: Outstanding. I was on my way to some of those ideas, but hadn't quite completed it. Yes, of course, people take drugs for reasons, and those reasons are often very inconvenient to some agendas. I knew about people taking meth simply because it's the price of what their jobs demand, but hadn't thought about it as a treatment for depression or things like ADHD. It makes depressingly good sense.

Richard: Some of us think it's immoral to impose a burden on others in the name of a cause unless that burden will both actually advance the cause and not create a bigger problem of any other kind. So some of us actually do care what happens to people who have restricted access to decongestants and how much any of it affects the meth trade. It seems not just wicked but downright strange to me not to care about those things.

To give an example from my own life...

One of my older brothers has permanent brain damage from a damn stupid drunk driving accident. His blood alcohol was way, ridiculously high - more than twice the legal limit, I don't remember exactly how much higher. He rolled his car, and had the blessed fortune to land up against the back of a warehouse place where one of the guys had combat EMT experience and kept him going until the ambulance arrived. I am, to put it mildly, fanatical on the dangers of drunk driving. I support a lot fo things that I believe will help reduce the chances of others suffering such death and injury.

But I don't support a lot of things that I believe won't help, like the push to keep lowering the blood alcohol level. Someone at 0.1 BAC is at reasonable risk of being impaired. Someone at 0.08, or 0.06, or whatever it is crusaders are pushing for these days, very likely isn't. So it's diverting effort from those who need stopping to those who don't.

It isn't right to use other people's lives, health, and comfort as a prop for my own peace of mind. I'm not entitled to impose a pointless burden to make myself feel like I've done something. And that's true for you, and everyone else. Restrictions and prohibitions are justified only if in fact they work and create fewer problems than they help.

Personally, I suspect that a really effective campaign against meth addiction would need to include universal health care and ruthless enforcement of working-conditions laws like restrictions on overtime and compensation. I don't, of course, expect to see that under this administration, but I'd be happy to at last not make anyone's lives worse in a crusade that cannot work on its own terms.

#87 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 11:57 AM:

The BAC hereabouts was .08, now is .05, and .02 if you've been driving less than three years. The reason they stopped at .02 was that it was the lowest level that they thought standard breath tests wouldn't get a lot of false positives. Well, hell. If a little restriction is good, a lot must be better, right?

#88 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 12:36 PM:

Emily Cartier wrote: The real problem with this combination of public interest group activity and lawmaker's activities is that it will *increase* demand for illegal stimulants. Is that really what we want?

Emily, I'm not clear on how a reduction in the supply of illegal stimulants will increase the demand for illegal stimulants.

Understanding the reasons why people use meth might indeed be a useful endeavor, but the highest priority in my town is to keep kids from becoming addicted to the drug. I'm sure we won't be totally successful, but I'm confident we will be *somewhat* successful if supply is constrained.

Seems to me the Sudafed rider represents the foundation on which all other supply-control measures rest. You have to first remove the easy local manufacture of meth to ensure other methods for limiting supply will have a chance to succeed.

Bruce, you may be right about what a really effective campaign against meth addiction might require. From my perspective, though, it's both irresponsible and immoral to ignore the chance to do something positive, right now, when the cost to you or me is mostly the inconvenience of having to wait in line and flash an ID when buying Sudafed.

#89 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 12:38 PM:

I seem to recall that when the BAC was lowered in California from 0.1 to 0.08, the reasoning was that in the usual time between arrest and blood test the BAC could drop enough to put it under the limit, so lower the limit. (Most of the DUIs I see on the road are DUI-cellphone.)

#90 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 01:28 PM:

Richard, folks were explaining in this very thread why it can be a lot more than just "just", particularly with families and living relatively far from a good drug store. Furthermore, we live in an era with pressure on local pharmacies to conform to someone's pet moralities, and the new drug program puts a lot of extra load on pharmacists to help customers figure out how to get less screwed.

So those are some considerations. The other is a historical burden. Can the advocates of this particular restriction show cases of that sort of thing actually working in the past - that is, trying to constrict one element of supply leading to reduced usage, rather than simply substitution and/or higher prices and more crime? Western nations have been banning substances for a long time. How many such efforts actually reduce use?

#91 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 03:19 PM:

Bruce, yes, I read the other posts upthread regarding the inconvenience this legislation creates. I didn't find them sufficiently compelling as counterarguments given that we're talking about a decongestant that will still remain available to the people who want it. And this isn't about "pet" moralities. I have no issue with adults ingesting a variety of illicit substances. It's just that the downsides to meth seem especially pernicious. When you have a chance, take a look at the Oregonion series referenced upthread.

I have not studied the efficacy of drug bans in affecting supply and usage, but c'mon, the more costly in price or difficult it is to buy something, the fewer the number of people who will buy it. That's an awkwardly constructed sentence, but the idea it conveys is basic economic theory -- and, most folks would argue, common sense.

An analogy: California's medical marijuana law has led to the creation of pot clubs to distribute marijuana to those who need it for medicinal purposes. In communities with poorly written regulations or lax oversight, shady operators are selling to those who do not need pot for medicinal purposes. In essence, both supply and ease of access have improved, and I'll bet you a dollar to a dime that the incidence of usage has risen.

#92 ::: Alexey Merz ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 05:21 PM:

I'll bet you a dollar to a dime that the incidence of usage has risen.

I'll take that bet. Let's see your data.

#93 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 07:17 PM:

Richard, if you can show a pattern of reduced usage based on intensified prohibition, I will gladly make a donation in your name to a worthy charity. I believe, however, that you will find that prohibition leads instead most of the time to two other things: increased strength of dosage, and of course reduced quality control. I know in particular that the Prohibition of the '20s led to a demand for higher-proof alcohol, and the rise of THC levels in commonly sold marijuana is also well documented. People who want their fix and find its vending restricted want more bang for their buck. One of the characteristics of the microbrew boom is that lots of them have very low proof - because they're legal, folks don't have to dash it down if getting buzzed or drunk is what they want, so they focus on flavor, color, and other aesthetic qualities. I don't know for sure about the strength of marijuana used for medical purposes, but I would be surprised to find its THC count is way up.

By the way, I have a friend in the Oregon medical marijuana program, and the level of supervision she was subject to was pretty tight. Furthermore, it was simple, with tallies of what was planted and ahrvested and how it was used. I'd have to go look up the exact details again, but it made it easy to show legitimate use and hard to hide any dealing. If - and I say "if" wanting to get some more evidence - that's not the case elsewhere, then that just illustrates that drawing up well-focused laws and enforcing them remains a priority whatever it is you're doing.

Does anyone have figures for meth sale prices, by the way? I'm curious what fraction of the cost to users the supply of pseudoephedrine is.

#94 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 09:16 PM:

I believe, however, that you will find that prohibition leads instead most of the time to two other things: increased strength of dosage, and of course reduced quality control. I know in particular that the Prohibition of the '20s led to a demand for higher-proof alcohol, and the rise of THC levels in commonly sold marijuana is also well documented.

I've also read some books about the gin craze in early 18th century London, and prohibition had the same effect there. The only thing that finally calmed the epidemic was legalization combined with taxation...

#95 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 09:51 PM:

Richard --

Raising the price doesn't affect demand at all when the demand is driven by either addiction or perceived medical necessity.

Demand, in either of those cases, is completely inelastic.

This is why 'hit the supply chain' approaches to illicit drugs don't work.

You can do a lot of useful things, but squeezing the supply doesn't work worth a damn.

#96 ::: ginny ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 09:56 PM:

I'm sure someone, somewhere is keeping score on how many times a midnight amendment has been added to "must-pass" legislation. I know it's always been like that, but the ballsiness of the practice in the current climate takes my breath away. Which is limited by an unpatriotic cold at the moment, so the Sudafed amendment caught my eye.

Regarding term limits for saying or doing something stupid, from way back near the top: I suspect they'd have trouble finding enough qualified people willing to serve on the Stupid Sub-committee, let alone serve as the chairman of Stupidity.

#97 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 10:45 PM:

Actually, Graydon, there seems to be a correlation between the price of meth and the number of *new* addicts. When meth is pricey, fewer people try it.

No, price doesn't effect established users . . . but if higher prices keeps kids from trying it in the first place, I'm all for it. Same goes for cigarettes.

As Richard suggested, grep around for the article series in The Oregonian. (

#98 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 12:47 AM:

Stefan --

That doesn't work well with cigarettes, though. Price pressure keeps rates of use down, until the prices reach a certain point and you get mass smuggling. (All the major tobacco companies were engaged in this the last time the tobacco taxes were really high in Ontario, frex.)

The thing that's almost worked for keeping kids from trying cigarettes is to obliterate stores that are caught selling tobacco to minors. (Loss of license to sell tobacco for periods of years, plus massive fines, values of "obliterate"; it wipes out a corner store to be caught doing this, so most of them don't.) The downside is that this makes tobacco 'cool' for a certain segment of the population.

For something already illegal, that kind of cost/benefit pressure on the sellers can't work; there isn't a business valuable in other ways to preserve.

Given that the stuff is trivially sourced outside the US and equally trivially smuggled in, I can't see how hitting the supply side is going to give sensible cost-benefit.

#99 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 01:20 AM:

ginny, that committee on Stupidity wasn't quite reached here, but there's a similarity:

From Wikipedia:

Hruska is best remembered in American political history for a 1970 speech he made to the Senate urging them to confirm the nomination of Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Responding to criticism that Carswell had been a mediocre judge, Hruska claimed that:

"Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?"

There's an excessive number of colons in there, but I'm not sure which one to remove, if any.

#100 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 01:31 AM:

Richard, there's a basic problem with your supply-and-demand analysis: You've left out profit.

If Sudafed is left uncontrolled, then anyone who wants meth has a relatively safe, legal, and cheap way of getting it. If Sudafed is controlled, the meth supply shrinks, and it becomes expensive. Suppliers become law-breakers, and the profit margin for the drug increases, creating a class of wealthy criminals where none existed before. (Or encouraging existing ones, or importing them from outside.) Result: Increases in street-level violence (as the criminals fight over markets) and police corruption (because the dealers now have motive and resources to bribe the cops).

And people will still be able to get meth.

#101 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 09:46 AM:

Someone at 0.1 BAC is at reasonable risk of being impaired. Someone at 0.08, or 0.06, or whatever it is crusaders are pushing for these days, very likely isn't.

Evidence? I've read that for my body weight (170-175) each standard drink produces ~0.02, with a typical clearance rate around 0.01 per hour; I know I'm not safe to drive after two drinks in quick succession. It's true I'm not a habitual serious drinker -- outside of visits to the UK (where I'll have beer with lunch and dinner -- I \like/ UK beer) I very rarely have more than 6 drinks in a week -- and ethanol is known to be a drug for which serious drinkers can build up an incredible tolerance; I've read of people being arrested for DUI with blood alcohol levels that would kill many people (0.4?). But I don't see 0.08 as being an unreasonable constraint.

#102 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 01:15 PM:

I agree with CHip: I don't think .08 is unreasonable. Recently in my social circles there were two separate instances of judgment impairment due to alcohol: both instances involved teenagers and young adults, drinking and driving, and not wearing seatbelts. Results: in one case, a broken neck which appears incredibly to have not resulted in paralysis; in the second case, a death. According to the cops, both the injuries and the fatality would have been avoided if seatbelts had been worn.

Teenagers have no damn judgment anyway -- or not much (forgive me if your teenage son or daughter shows sterling judgment, most especially when he/she gets behind the wheel of a car, and even more so when he/she has been drinking...) I figure that any time I drive, my chances of being in front of a driver who has had a little too much to drink are higher than I like. Anything that keeps that driver and all her/his friends off the road is fine by me.

There are countries (I believe Iceland is one) where if you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, they take your car away and no, you don't get it back. Much more effective than taking your license, in my opinion.

#103 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 03:22 PM:

I can't drink - I'm allergic to alcohol - so I'm running on other people's info. It was my impression that below about 0.1, the rate of false positives went up and that for a fair number of people there wasn't any measurable impairment.

For what it's worth, I'd be really comfortable with draconian penalties for drunk driving at a higher threshold. Confiscating the car at, say, 0.15, where there's definitely going tob e impairment in a big way, would bother me not at all. But then i like phenomenological law enforcement best. Rather than punishing chemistry, punish the behavior. Not all hazardous drivers are drunk; not all people with significant blood alcohol levels are hazards.

Then again, chemistry has its facts too.

#104 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 06:05 PM:

Bruce --

For most things other than driving, the rule is that any drinks make you impaired. The level of blood alcohol acceptable to operate a high-hoe, or a crane, or a bulldozer, frex, is none at all.

And, yes, everybody with measurable blood alcohol who is driving is a hazard. They're not all the same degree of hazard, but that goes for the idiots with cell phones glued to their ear, people who are driving while sick, and so on.

(I would be delighted by a law that required all car engines to jam cell phones when running.)

#105 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 06:51 PM:

I've done some reading up, and it appears that I was mistaken about relatively low BAC. Thank you, everyone who nudged me to go check. I withdraw my objections to laws lowering BAC thresholds for legal action on those grounds, though I do have this nagging feeling that they're not looking at the parts of drunk driving that could do most good if poked at. However, I could be mistaken on that too, so I'll read further and see what I think after that.

Graydon, I can't agree with jamming. I know too many people for whom the remote access with zero to minimal delay is important - people waiting for organ transplants, people with loved ones who may have to be hospitalized at any moment, like that. So I'd want a jammer exception for pager-type notification, something that tells you "X called", maybe some text message room, and then allow for a one-button response to send acknowledgment. That'd let folks know that what they'r concerned about has come up. Then they can pull over, park, and make a longer call.

#106 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2006, 10:29 PM:


Well, it's possible that nobody else here is working on any other aspect of the problem, assuming we can agree at least in broad strokes on what those other aspects are, but I'm not sure how you're proving it by reference to this thread. Have you been reading everyone's CVs?

And no, I am not trying to be a bitch. Yes, I agree with you that chasing the meth labs out of a given COUNTRY, nevermind a given neighbourhood, is no solution to the meth problem. Yes, I agree with you that we need better answers, and that such answers will necessarily be imperfect.

It is, however, one part of the solution to the neighbourhood problem, and I'm sorry if you think I'm a bad person for devoting some of my energy to acting locally, but there it is.

I'm even a member of the homeowner's association, which allows me the occasional pleasure of putting a small spoke in the wheels of the absentee landlords who don't give a damn about the quality of life around here as long as the rents and property values keep going up.

Maybe it's different where you are, but around here we're not having this problem in the nice clean wealthy neighbourhoods full of people with good fire insurance and just piles of margin for error.

And as far as making a long-term difference, if the community health centre with the needle exchange, the walk-in hassle-free clinic and all the services for the homeless and inadequately housed, or the community centre that allows one-dollar drop-in access to the pool and gym for the unwaged and low-waged, or the free laundry co-op, or any number of other things around here than are making the difference between hanging on and falling off for a lot of people get destroyed because of a fire started by somebody's damned home chemistry lab, that isn't going to do a whole lot to solve the probem either.

#107 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2006, 10:52 AM:

Graydon, it makes sense to me that addicts' demand curves for their drug of addiction is extremely inelastic. Again, though, the primary point -- which I think you recognize given your comment to Stefan regarding rates of use -- is that for those users or potential users who are not yet addicts, higher costs that result from supply constraints should dissuade some of these people from proceeding furthur (grin) with the drug. Yes, creative entrepreneurs will find ways around supply constraints, but the resulting higher price per hit or the increased difficulty in obtaining the drug should mean a decline in the growth rate in its incidence of use. The incidence of use might even remain stable, and over time it conceivably could drop.

"Trivially smuggled in" does not necessarily mean easily distributed. IMHO, the ease of making meth in a kitchen pretty much translates to cheaper drugs distributed over a broader area than would occur with smuggled drugs.

Trying to control demand without likewise trying to control supply seems to me a Sisyphean strategy. I certainly wouldn't expect much of a positive cost-benefit ratio from a program that virtually ensures the continued creation of new users.

#108 ::: lois avci ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 04:46 PM:

Never mind the possibility that a few folks will have runny noses because they can't get their Sudafed! No one ever stopped breathing because their nose was plugged! Every year upwards of 4000 asthmatics in this country do stop breathing, for good.

Pseudoephedrine HCl (i.e. Primatene or Bronkaid tablets), a safe, effective drug, is the only non-inhalant antiasthmatic I can find OTC. For us severe asthmatics who don't do well with inhalants (and my respiratory therapist tells me that bronchial irritation caused by using inhalers is not that unusual), the new ephedrine restrictions mean that if we start gasping for breath at an inconvenient time (such as the middle of the night--when, in fact, many attacks start) there is nothing whatsoever available outside of an emergency room, as the pharmacies have all closed.

What's worse, I have had several pharmacists tell me they expect to "phase out" sales of pseudoephedrine HCl. Some large chains, in particular Walmart, have already stopped selling it: nobody is paying them to do all the required extra record keeping, after all.

Meanwhile, the FDA is talking about removing all the nonprescription asthma inhalers (which are based on pseudoepinephrine) from the market too. Not because they are neither very safe nor very effective, but because they contain CFCs. My government is less concerned that I'll suffocate than they are that I'll somehow miss my open mouth and hit the ozone layer!

There are safer, more effective drugs for asthma (with no recreational uses) which have been available without a prescription in most countries for decades, but the FDA is too busy catering to big pharma and fretting that I may blast a hole in the ozone layer with my inhaler to get around to approving them.

#109 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 08:09 AM:

No one ever stopped breathing because their nose was plugged!

Speaking as someone with obstructive sleep apnea, who uses a CPAP machine with a nasal mask, I have to say that's not entirely true.

#110 ::: jbrown ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 07:40 AM:

How can I find out what the "legal" amount is for
purchase of pseudoephedrine? Does it vary state
to state, or how?

I am at a loss to find the legislation which passed this stupid, very unfair, law. Many
innocent ppl who justifiably need this med are
now not able to obtain it without a huge hassle.
I also cannot obtain the exact ruling in terms of allowable quantity bought.

Does anyone have any answers to my questions?

#111 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 11:10 AM:

jbrown@110: Have you asked your pharmacist? He or she should be able to tell you what amount you can legally buy in what time frame.

#112 ::: Spm deleted ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2008, 07:20 PM:

Spam from

#114 ::: Xopher corrects Stefan, saying "actually, it's spam," ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2008, 08:17 PM:

The ID links to a website.

#115 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2009, 08:10 PM:

I say take all things that are used to making meth out of commission or go back to having a perscription for it. plus there are other meds. for allergies. farmers got along without anthydrious before we got along without lithium batteries before as well. I say the law should take a good look at all this, we need to prtect our up coming children and not more money in the pockets for fines when people get caught.

#116 ::: Fragano Ledgister sees what looks like trolling ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2009, 08:34 PM:

Mary please return to your bridge. Thank you.

#117 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2009, 09:31 PM:

I disagree. Mary strikes me as sincere but incoherent. (Any sufficiently incoherent comment is indistinguishable from trollery?)

#118 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 11:17 AM:

I don't think she's incoherent. Not crystal clear in the sequitors, I got the message.

I don't agree them (as I understand them) because I don't think the idea of removing anything which anyone can use to do things some people disagree with the use of, and others abuse, is a good way to run a society.

I don't think, all things being equal, Mary does either, but rather that she's been sold a bill of goods about "those people" and with a song and dance about "law and order" and doesn't realise what she's advocating is the core principle of a police state.

All of which puts me in concurrence that none of which makes her a troll

#119 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 08:04 PM:

Regulating sudafed is only a pseudosolution.

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Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.