The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, April 07, 2006

Federal ‘Combat Meth Act’ will further restrict cold medicine; A1

New law will require even pediatric drugs to be kept off shelves

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Even tighter restrictions on cold medicine are on the way to the nation’s drugstores, courtesy of the renewed USA Patriot Act.

The first round of new federal anti-methamphetamine measures takes effect on Saturday, placing limits on how much pseudoephedrine-containing medicines consumers can buy nationwide.

By the time the law is in full effect at the end of September, all products containing the drug will be either locked up or behind pharmacy counters. Purchasers will have to show a photo ID and sign a logbook to buy more than 60 milligrams at a time.

The new law, known as the Combat Meth Act, is a badly needed tool to curtail the spread of methamphetamine, also known as “ice” or simply “meth,” according to a Northern Shenandoah Valley congressman.

“It’s a very different type of drug problem. Meth is one of the most addictive drugs there is,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th. “The fact that it can be manufactured in home labs makes it much harder to stop.”

Some of the new law’s requirements are similar to Virginia’s existing rules and newly passed bills awaiting Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s signature.

But the new law goes much further in controlling what medications cannot be sold without a photo ID. Unlike Virginia’s law, the federal act puts everything with pseudoephedrine behind the counter.

Virginia and other states allowed liquid forms of the drug to be sold alongside other over-the-counter drugs. Pediatric drugs, exempt under a number of state laws, must also be out of reach under the new federal act.

The problem is so bad and so widespread that it had to be tackled by the feds, Goodlatte said. Meth doesn’t stop at state lines.

Interstate 81 has become a major transport artery for the drug, he said. “That’s one reason the Shenandoah Valley is so badly hit with that problem.”

Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell thinks Combat Meth is a welcome addition to the state’s anti-meth arsenal, according to spokesman Tucker Martin.

“The attorney general believes that changes in Virginia, and federal, law will significantly address the problem of methamphetamine production,” he said.

Pharmacies across the country are already making changes. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores on Thursday published a 72-page list of brand-name drugs that will no longer be permitted on customer-accessible shelves, along with how much can be sold.

Some Virginia lawmakers have expressed concern that such laws will make it more difficult for rural residents to get the medicines they need. Rural access was one sticking point as new laws worked their way through the General Assembly this year.

Those concerns are unfounded, according to Goodlatte.

“Nobody is going to be denied access to a drug that is needed,” he said. “[The ID and other requirements do] not make it harder in any way shape or form.”

Goodlatte conceded that some products will be harder to get, particularly in rural areas at odd hours.

“I understand that, but I think that people would understand, given the unbelievably serious nature of what happens to people’s lives when they’re exposed to [methamphetamine],” he said.

But what were methamphetamine rules doing in an anti-terrorism bill? Moving forward, according to Goodlatte and the region’s other congressman, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th.

When the controversial Patriot Act, the nation’s best known anti-terror law, was up for renewal earlier this year, the Combat Meth Act was inserted into a conference report at the last minute. President Bush’s signature on the renewed Patriot Act also made Combat Meth the law of the land.

When questioned about the connection between the two bills, a White House spokesman referred reporters to previous comments by Bush speaking in support of both bills. The comments did not address how the two were linked.

Combat Meth doesn’t have anything to do with terrorism, said Goodlatte, but it was important to get the bill through Congress, and the Patriot Act was one legislative bus headed in the right direction.

“It was a train that was moving,” added Wolf, who said time was of the essence. States that had enacted laws have seen a dramatic drop in meth lab seizures, and legislatures in some states that haven’t might not meet again for months, he said.

But would the meth law have passed without the terrorism law?

“I think it would have, eventually,” Goodlatte said. But “you have a longer process in the U.S. Senate.”