The state Board of Pharmacy has fined two drug wholesale companies for failing to notify authorities of suspicious transactions of cold medicine, an ingredient in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine.
Police and drug enforcement officials, especially in rural areas, are battling an alarming growth in the use of methamphetamine. The drug affects the nervous system, and when people use it they stay awake and get the deceptive feeling that they have more energy. It is very addictive. Over time the behavior of meth users becomes increasingly erratic and violent.
The Legislature passed Act 1209 of 2001 to restrict the possession and sale of certain types of cold medicine. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are common ingredients in popular, over the counter cold medications, but they also are used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
The Legislature imposed restrictions on the sale of cold medicines because meth dealers were buying them by the case. State law still allows consumers to purchase amounts that will effectively treat their cold symptoms.
In fining the two wholesalers, the Pharmacy Board ruled that a reasonable person would suspect that the transactions were suspicious and that retailers were stocking up on cold medicines only to provide ingredients to meth dealers.
One wholesaler had its license to sell List 1 chemicals suspended for three years and was fined $175,000, to be paid when the suspension is completed.
List 1 chemicals include the cold medicines used to manufacture meth.
The other wholesaler was fined $163,000 and its List 1 license was suspended for one year.
Investigators for the Pharmacy Board said the wholesalers sold large amounts of cold medicine to convenience stores and truck stops. In several suspicious transactions, the stores bought only ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and no other products.
Also, some stores bought amounts that were greater than what a convenience store would ordinarily sell in a year. The stores consistently bought large amounts each month, which should have further raised suspicions on the part of the wholesalers.
Also, the investigators learned that the stores kept the packages of cold medicine out of the view of the public, and sold them by "word of mouth" to people who sometimes paid prices 400 percent to 500 percent above normal.
In the regular legislative session that begins in January, lawmakers will consider bills to further tighten the limitations on the sale of cold medicines. So far, proposals include limiting their sale only to pharmacies, and perhaps requiring consumers to show a photo ID and sign a list each time they buy pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. Each purchase would be entered into a computer system, so that authorities can tell if someone is making numerous purchases within a short period.
The state Crime Lab reports that the number of meth labs seized in Arkansas continues to go up. In 1995, the police busted 24 meth labs.
The following year they busted 96, and in 1999 they busted 554.
Last year authorities seized 1,208 meth labs and are on a pace to set a new record this year. As of early September, law officers had busted 835 illegal meth labs in 2004.