Proposed Law Restricts Access to Cold Medicine

The Senate is considering legislation that would restrict the sale of over-the-counter cold medicines in an effort to curb the nation's methamphetamine problem.

"If you can restrict access to the cold medicines. … Then you can stop the local labs," said Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo.

Unlike other hard drugs like crack and heroine, meth can be made in users' homes. The main ingredient in meth is pseudoephedrine, which is found in cough and cold medicine like Sudafed.

There are an estimated 1.4 million meth abusers in the United States, and more than 15,000 children have been injured in household meth labs or placed in foster care after their parents were jailed.

"You can take $100 and within four hours you can take (that) and have about an ounce of methamphetamine. Its street value would be $650," said Capt. Craig Durbin of the Oregon State Police.

To discourage meth makers, lawmakers want to restrict purchases to 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine a day, which is a box or two of cold medicine. The law would also impose stiffer penalties for meth makers, and provide $99 million a year for five years to train and equip local and state law enforcement investigating meth crimes. There also is a $20 million provision to help children affected by the meth activities of family members.

Some states already have enacted legislation that is even more restrictive than the current federal proposal. In Oregon, pseudoephedrine can only be bought with a prescription.

"In the last four months, we've seen an 80 percent decrease in the meth labs in Oregon," Durbin said.

The new federal legislation won't stop people from "smurfing" -- going around to stores and buying as much cold medicine as needed -- but advocates are calling it a start.