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Cold-Medicine Cops

Coughy, achy, stuffy head, fever? Uncle Sam wants to know.

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If civil-liberties-minded New Yorkers were already annoyed by the USA Patriot Act, the recent arrival of the worst allergy season in 50 years (this month, the city jumped from 88th to 11th on the list of worst U.S. cities for allergies) has really made it hit home. The revision of the act, signed by President Bush on March 9, takes aim at an insidious threat to our nation: Sudafed, Claritin-D, and Children’s Motrin. These over-the-counter meds use the decongestant pseudoephedrine (PSE), which is also used to make crystal meth. The revamped Patriot Act, which went into effect in April, limited each sale of PSE-containing drugs to 3.6 grams (about 120 pills) per person per day. In September, drugstores will be required to move them behind the counter and enter the buyer’s name in a registry that tracks sales. Many larger chains are already requiring I.D., turning checkout into something Soviet-esque. Within days of the new regulations, parents were already getting sniffly (“I hate that I can’t buy more than one box of Claritin-D at a time; I missed out on a great sale”) on Urbanbaby.com. New York DEA agent Matthew Barnes explains that it takes about ten packages of Sudafed, combined with ingredients such as antifreeze, lye, battery acid, and fertilizer, to produce one ounce of meth. Despite the fact that 70 percent of meth is smuggled in from Mexico-border “superlabs,” Barnes says that the new restrictions will help hinder meth production in “small toxic labs” throughout the country. Lawyer and Rite Aid customer Eric Amin worries the government registry could be used to track and deport sneezy immigrants. To avoid the hassle of giving his information, he bought nasal spray.


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