Should you need a prescription to buy cold medicine? State Sen. Dave Koehler thinks so, and he has introduced a bill that would require just that for medicines you’ve always been allowed to buy over the counter.
Senate Bill 3502 would amend the Illinois Controlled Substances Act to categorize ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as “Schedule III” drugs. Both substances are active ingredients in cold medicines such as decongestants Bronkaid and Sudafed, and allergy medication Claritin-D. But the active ingredients could also be used to produce crystal meth, which is why it’s become a popular target of politicians.
In fact, laws already on the books for these substances already impose burdens on businesses and consumers. The federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 (passed along with the Patriot Act) mandates that medicines with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine be sold only to customers 18 and older and be kept behind the counter, and that pharmacies take down the name and address of everyone who buys them. Anyone who buys more than an arbitrary amount now – 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine base per day and 9 grams per month – has committed a federal crime.
The experiences of ordinary people trying to take care of their families show how these laws are an example of drastic government overreach. In 2006, for example, an Illinois man was arrested and charged with a federal misdemeanor for buying his son “too much” Claritin-D before he went to summer camp. Authorities don’t even have to show criminal intent, but merely that someone bought a certain amount of allergy medication, to charge a person with a crime.
While the law would burden innocent people, it would not be likely to make much of a dent in the Illinois meth market. Most methamphetamine consumed in the U.S. is imported from Mexico, not produced here, and a study by the Cascade Policy Institute found that Oregon’s prescription requirement did not significantly reduce meth production or use in the state.
There’s no good reason why Illinoisans should be forced to bear the cost and inconvenience of going to a doctor to treat the common cold or allergies with medicines that millions use every year without abuse. Hopefully, more sensible legislators will reject this further encroachment on our personal freedoms.