WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Hy-Vee pulled several popular over-the-counter cold remedies off its shelves this month.
The retailer said it now sells cold medications containing pseudoephedrine from behind pharmacy and customer-service counters. Pseudoephedrine is used in the production of methamphetamine, which is prevalent in the Midwest, and theft and other abuses of the OTC product have been on the increase.
"This was something that we had looked at for a long time," said Ruth Mitchell, spokeswoman, Hy-Vee. "Here in the Midwest, and particularly in Iowa and Missouri, two states in which we operate, methamphetamine production is among the highest in the country. Probably the highest on a per capita basis."
Hy-Vee, like other retailers in areas with high levels of meth production, had seen excessive instances of theft and suspicious purchase levels of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine. Several Hy-Vee stores had already moved Sudafed and other high-theft products either within sight of the pharmacy counter or behind it, and placed a limit on the amount of product that could be purchased in one transaction, Mitchell said.
Hy-Vee's new policy will require that all 219 Hy-Vee and Drug Town stores limit sales of decongestants containing pseudoephe-drine to two boxes per customer and require that those products be placed behind the pharmacy counter, or the customer-service desk if the store does not have a pharmacy. Consumers will also be asked to sign a log if they purchase those products, regardless of how many boxes they buy.
Hy-Vee's policy applies to 14 stockkeeping units that are sold in tablets or capsules of 30 milligrams or more. These include Sudafed tablets, Dimetapp Extentabs, Drixoral 12-hour Cold tablets, Dibromm Extended Release tablets and Hy-Vee's own brand of Suphedrine tablets. These products have been identified by drug enforcement officials as those preferred by meth manufacturers.
When asked if a reduction in sales was feared because of the restrictions, Mitchell said Hy-Vee's priorities were elsewhere.
"Time will tell if this move will deter sales. We hope it doesn't, but we know it will deter people from buying or stealing product from our stores and using them to make methamphetamine. As long as that happens, that's what we're after."
Mitchell said that stores were reporting only positive feedback from consumers, and added that state legislators also seemed to support the measures. The State Office of Drug Control Policy is expected to bring a proposal to mandate similar steps statewide before the legislature during the current session.
"Hy-Vee operates in some of the worst states in terms of meth production. Kansas, Missouri and Iowa are some of the most serious situations in the country," said Mary Ann Wagner, vice president of pharmacy regulatory affairs for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Alexandria, Va. Hy-Vee must have been losing a lot of product in stores in those regions if they implemented this drastic step, she speculated. Many stores in areas faced with this problem have taken voluntary steps similar to Hy-Vee's. "Everyone's trying to figure out what the best way to combat this problem is," said Steve Perlowski, vice president of industry affairs, NACDS.
Meth production in the Midwest has been a problem for a number of years and it shows no signs of abating, Wagner said. State governments frequently introduce legislation they hope will address the problem, she said. The NACDS, in partnership with approximately 20 other organizations for businesses affected by meth production -- including the Food Marketing Institute, National Association of Convenience Stores, Consumer Healthcare Products Association and the Fertilizer Institute -- formed the National Coalition to Prevent Precursor Diversion early this year in an effort to help the states and businesses most heavily affected by this problem.