It’s been 18 years since drug companies replaced pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine to keep their cold medications available over the counter when the people waging War On Drugs(tm) decided to restrict the main ingredient in Sudafed (and what it was named after) because it could be used to make meth.
Though I remember some other decongestant plugging the idea that “unlike those medications, we chose not to change our formulation…” Yeah, because you weren’t using an ingredient that got semi-banned!
From the start, the new formulation clearly wasn’t as effective. When I found out that I could still buy the real medication as long as I asked at the pharmacy counter (and showed ID so that the DEA or whoever knows I’m not trying to get around limits by hitting every pharmacy in town), I stopped bothering with the OTC versions entirely.
I wasn’t surprised when studies showed that phenylephrine doesn’t work.
Back in 2015.
(Restricting sales of the real stuff didn’t seem to make much of a dent in the meth problem, either.)
“Only” eight years later, the FDA reached the same conclusion.
And yet the industry is complaining that “if oral phenylephrine were not available over the counter, it would be a significant burden to consumers.”
It doesn’t work. People who buy it are wasting their time and money on snake oil instead of buying a different medication that might actually do something for them. (Not that this is a problem for the supplement industry, where “not evaluated by the FDA” might as well be a selling point.)
We all ended up worse off: cold meds that don’t work, submitting to surveillance to get the meds that do work, and it didn’t even slow down the meth epidemic.
When restrictions on pseudoephedrine were put in place a decade(!) ago and drug companies reformulated using phenylephrine, I noticed a marked decrease in effectiveness. It’s been worth the effort to ask the pharmacist for the real thing, which is still available behind the counter (at least in California), though you have to let the state track how much you’re buying, just in case they think you’re going to cross the Heisenberg threshold.
A new study confirms: phenylephrine just doesn’t work, at least not at the approved dosage.
But hey, at least no one’s making meth anymore, right? Right? 😕
A few months ago I discovered that medications containing pseudoephedrine were labeled “restricted quantity items” at the local Sav-On because it can be used to make meth. Today I found that the shelf space that used to hold both brand-name Sudafed and the store brand now holds cards which direct you to the pharmacy. The boxes aren’t actually in the pharmacy in this store, they’re in a case up front, but the cards are pre-printed, and they say to go to the pharmacy.
Meanwhile, Sudafed has come out with a new formulation that isn’t based on pseudoephedrine. Yes, I know. I mentioned it to Katie and she asked whether they called it “…” We started trying to come up with names like “Sudasudafed” or “Quasifed” or “Notfed.”
They’ve got too much invested in the name, of course, so it’s the less-creative “Sudafed PE.” The store brands have caught up already, but it’s new enough that I could not find any reference to it on Pfizer’s website [archive.org: July 12, 2005]. A quick trip to Google turned up the Sudafed FAQ [archive.org: Dec. 10, 2005], though, which is currently all about the new medication.
The last time I bought Ny-Quil, there was a remark on the receipt about it being a restricted quantity item. At the time I assumed people were abusing it somehow, but I never got around to looking it up.
Now I know why. Apparently, pseudoephedrine can be used to make methamphetamine, and some states are considering further restricting sales of over-the-counter drugs like Ny-Quil and Sudafed—making people ask a pharmacist, for example, so sales can be tracked more easily. (At present, California only restricts the quantity bought in a single purchase, which is completely non-intrusive to people who just want to breathe comfortably for the next week.)
Y’know, I have no problem with limiting the quantities purchased (as long as the limits are reasonable), and I can live with standing in line at the pharmacy if I have to—but some of the suggestions are to require you to “show identification—and even enter [your] addresses in a law enforcement database.” Excuse me? What do the police care if I have a cold? New! More government scrutiny of your life, brought to you by the War on Drugs(tm)!
As to the likely success of this effort, consider this quote Continue reading