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WASHINGTON--Before the new year, Congress may pass legislation requiring cold remedies that can be used to make methamphetamine to be placed behind store counters, reported the Associated Press.
Lawmakers hope that federal restrictions will stem a meth trade that has hit rural America particularly hard, according to the AP.
A number of states have already moved to curb the sale of cold pills containing pseudoephedrine, the ingredient used to cook meth in makeshift labs. The federal law would prevent meth makers from moving to states with weaker laws.
Stores would be required to keep medicines like Sudafed and Nyquil behind the counter and consumers would be limited to 3.6 grams, or about 120 pills, per day and 9 grams, or about 300 pills, a month. Purchasers would also need to show a photo ID and sign a logbook, according to AP.
Those limits target meth dealers who buy or steal large quantities of the drugs to extract the pseudoephedrine.
The measure is a compromise reached after months of haggling over the 30-day limit. Sens. Jim Talent and Dianne Feinstein, who pushed the legislation in the Senate, insisted the limit was needed to curb the meth epidemic, AP reported.
"The heart of this legislation is a strong standard for keeping pseudoephedrine products out of the hands of meth cooks," Feinstein told AP.
The bill is weaker than one passed by the Senate in September that would have required cold remedies to be sold from the pharmacy counter. That would have prevented many stores without pharmacies, such as convenience stores and some supermarkets, from carrying the pills.
"We're pleased to see the current compromise," Tim Hammonds, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocery stores and other retailers, told the AP. "It addresses a serious law enforcement concern, but in a way that balances the need for consumer access to safe and effective products."
Hammonds said in the report he was disappointed the federal bill would not pre-empt more restrictive laws in states like Oklahoma and Iowa, where cold remedies are sold from behind pharmacy counters. At least 37 states have enacted laws to restrict the sale of cold medications to starve meth manufacturers of their key ingredient.
Many retailers-- including Kmart, Walgreens, Target, Wal-Mart--have already adopted guidelines to limit customer access to cold products or to limit their sales.
Some drug makers have changed the ingredients in cold pills to take out pseudoephedrine and replace it with another substance, phenylephrine, that cannot be used to make meth. A new product called Sudafed PE is already on store shelves, though the old Sudafed is still available, AP reported.
The measure would provide nearly $100 million a year for five years to train state and local law enforcement to nab meth offenders and would expand funding to prosecute dealers and clean up environmentally toxic meth labs.
Talent called the measure "the toughest anti-meth bill ever considered by Congress." He predicted that it would help reduce the number of clandestine labs where the illegal drug is made with common items like household cleaners and coffee filters, AP reported.