WASHINGTON - As a new part of the USA Patriot Act, expected to be reauthorized by Congress last week, the federal Combat Meth Act will pull over-the-counter cold products containing pseudoephedrine behind counters or into locked display cases for all states.
Retailers nationwide will be allowed to carry products containing the popular decongestant, but must follow a detailed set of regulations to help law enforcement curb the rise of illicit at-home methamphetamine labs, which use the products' PSE ingredient.
The industry has been hoping a federal law will put an end to the confusion caused by multiple state laws. However, individual state law may supersede the federal law with more stringent regulations.
"Time is money, and when you take a product from an over-the-counter self-serve status to a legislated status, it will cost more in the long run," Verne Mounts, director of pharmacy, Buehlers Markets, Wooster, Ohio, told SN.
"Moving the product behind the pharmacy counter [in states where this is already required] has, without question, cut movement of the product out of our warehouse down to half of what it was before the legislation," said Bob Egeland, assistant vice president of pharmacy operations, Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa.
Besides loss of sales, the products will cause retailers to incur the extra business costs of following provisions that include: limiting the amount of product purchased by any one customer to 3.6 grams per day and 90 grams per month; keeping all PSE products behind a counter or in a locked display case; asking customers to sign a logbook and show photo ID; maintaining a paper or electronic logbook; and certifying to the U.S. attorney general that staff has been trained in the above procedures.
For retailers operating in the dozen states that currently allow PSE products to be sold only from behind a pharmacy counter, things get even more complicated, said John Motley, senior vice president of government and public affairs, Food Marketing Institute, Washington.
Supermarkets without pharmacies in these states are not allowed to carry PSE products at all.
"We operate in seven states and there is already PSE legislation in every one of those, Iowa being the most stringent," Egeland said. "Having state law supercede federal law does complicate the issue from a warehousing standpoint."
While the supermarket industry was pushing for a federal preemption that would create one uniform nationwide law, "this was the best we could do in light of the pressure to get effective laws in place to restrict the sale of these products," Motley said.