SPOKANE, Wash. -- Rosauers Supermarkets here has voluntarily pulled popular over-the-counter medications that contain precursor chemicals to the highly addictive methamphetamine drug and positioned them with limited access behind the service counter, according to Glen Stocking, pharmacy director for the 18-store chain.
"It's a timely issue and I feel strongly about it," he said. "We're trying to supplement what the local law enforcement is doing, and the sheriff feels it's a positive thing."
The drugs, pulled two weeks ago, included all 15 dosage forms and sizes of Actifed, Sudafed and their private label versions containing pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical in "speed," "meth," "crank" or "ice," as methamphetamine is commonly called.
Methamphetamine can be produced in laboratories by chemically altering such over-the-counter medications, said Stocking.
Pfizer's Warner-Lambert Consumer Group, Morris Plains, N.J., produces Sudafed and Actifed. According to Denny Voight, nonfood buyer, the manufacturer fully supports the maneuver.
Voight said the high rate of stolen merchandise for these medications prompted the retailer to take action. "At least 50% of these products were being stolen," he said. He added that some stores were restocking these particular cold remedies daily due to the high shrink rate.
Nancy Bukar, state government counsel for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Washington, D.C., said two states have set mandatory sales limits on OTC drugs containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine (PPA). California limits single purchases to three packages or nine grams of the medication, while Arizona limits consumers to eight packages, or 24 grams. Washington state has a pending bill that would carry the same criteria as California, according to Bukar.
"We think the bill is the best effort to put forward to deal with the problem right now," Bukar said.
At Rosauers, the mainline shelf space has been replaced by acrylic cardholders clipped to the front of the shelves that house cards with the products' UPC code and picture. Consumers can take one of the cards to the service counter or the checkout in exchange for their desired medication.
"For legitimate users of the medication, I don't think [the new positioning] is a problem," said Stocking. "Consumers understand the [drug] problem. It's been getting a lot of local press." By restricting the access to these medications, he said it helps limit shrink, and aids in decreasing the amount of raw materials that can be purchased and potentially used in illegal methamphetamine manufacturing labs.
In addition to the UPC card display, a convenient product card identical to the front and back of the medication packages is attached by a chain to the cardholder. Signs that explain Rosauers' reasons for the new display and the retailer's proactive stance on the drug dilemma are also posted to the shelves. "The continuous line of holders makes a nice-looking presentation of the product," said Stocking.
Thus far, Voight said there is no limit on the amount of cards customers can exchange for purchase of the cold remedies. "But if a customer is buying six or seven packages, you would have to think there is something fishy."
According to the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 597 secret methamphetamine labs were seized and dismantled by law enforcement in 1999 in Washington state. This is the second highest amount in the nation behind California.
Stocking agreed that the total methamphetamine drug use and lab manufacturing problem is "especially bad in Washington."
Besides several common cold, allergy, sinus and asthma OTC medications, CHPA said other widely available legal products can be used by drug traffickers to manufacture methamphetamine, including bleach, acetone and lithium batteries.
"It's worked out well for us. There's been no negative reaction," Voight said. "Any time you pull product off the shelves, there's a reason, but you have to provide information for the customers for them to purchase it."
According to Bukar, other methods retailers use to help put a dent in the drug use problem include moving the products closer to checkout or installing security tags on those items.