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WASHINGTON - New government limits on the sales of hundreds of cough and cold remedies could cause big problems for the food industry, Marsh Supermarkets s.v.p. of government affairs Joseph Heerens testified today before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources.
At issue is an Oklahoma law, which other states and the federal government are considering, that requires such products to be taken off store shelves and sold only by pharmacies by reclassifying them as Schedule V drugs under controlled-substances laws. The intent is to restrict sales of products containing pseudoephedrin, which is used to make methamphetamine. The affected products include such common OTC drugs as Actifed, Allerest, Nyquil, Sinutab, Sudafed, and Tylenol Allergy Sinus.
Testifying on behalf of the industry and FMI, Heerens stressed that the industry solidly backs sales restrictions on such cold and cough remedies, "[b]ut a Schedule V approach is very troublesome. That's because the overwhelming majority of grocery stores in the United States do not have a pharmacy department.
Heerens continued: "For example, my company currently operates approximately 120 supermarkets in Indiana and Ohio, but only 46 of them have a pharmacy department. Therefore, under the Oklahoma model, more than 60 percent of our stores could not sell the pseudoephedrine products that our customers expect us to carry."
Only about 15,000 of the more than 210,000 U.S. retail food stores have pharmacies, according to industry data, meaning that if the Oklahoma law were implemented nationwide, shoppers wouldn't be able to purchase cough and cold products at almost 200,000 outlets ranging from convenience stores to traditional supermarkets.
Even in stores with pharmacies, according to Hereens, the availability of the products would be limited by store hours and space constraints in the pharmacy department. "Our pharmacy departments are typically open less than 12 hours per day," he told the subcommittee. Additionally, because of the lack of space in the pharmacy, the number of cough and cold products carried would have to be reduced from more than 150 "to no more than a few dozen."
Instead of using Schedule V to control the sales of drugs that can be used to make methamphetamine, he said, the industry supports a more comprehensive strategy and partnership among law enforcement, regulatory agencies, manufacturers, and retailers.
Specifically, the industry is in favor of stricter constraints on purchases of such items. Under current law, shoppers may buy nine grams of the product at one time, while those sold in blister packs are exempt from this restriction. The industry supports lowering the sales limit to six grams and getting rid of the exemption, according to Heerens. The industry and FMI also advocate the following:
-Greater regulatory authority, controls, tracking, and quota limits over imports and the sale of bulk chemicals of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
-A ban on Internet sales of chemicals used to make methamphetamine.
-Promotion and funding of education programs training store associates to recognize suspicious pseudoephedrine purchases, such as the Meth Watch Program (www.MethWatch.com).
-Stiffer penalties for the manufacturing, distribution, and possession of methamphetamine.
-Increased federal regulatory authority, including licensing and inspection at the distributor level, particularly secondary wholesalers.