QUINCY, Mass. — In a move that aims to ward off legal mandates, Ahold USA last week began a voluntary age restriction for the purchase of many over-the-counter cough medicines.
Based on a growing trend of abuse among teens, only those 18 years or older will be able to buy products containing the cough suppressive ingredient dex-tromethorphan (DXM) at Ahold-owned supermarkets. These are the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. here; Giant Food, Landover, Md.; Tops Markets, Buffalo, N.Y.; and Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa.
Although Ahold is not the first to impose the restriction, it is one of the forerunners in a retail movement toward voluntary action in matters of drug abuse.
“The products will still be out on the shelves, but when scanned, the checker will be prompted to verify the customer's age,” said John Fegan, senior vice president of pharmacy, Ahold USA. “We haven't been asked to put DXM behind the pharmacy counter like pseudoephedrine.”
A number of separate state and county laws, followed by federal legislation passed in September of last year, forced retailers to pull products containing the ingredient pseudoephedrine (PSE) behind pharmacy or customer service counters. While those regulations were enacted to put a stop to the widespread use of PSE in the illegal production of methamphetamine, the direct abuse of DXM carries similar dangers and the possibility of similar regulations.
“We'd like to keep patient safety and professionalism in place while taking some pressure off pharmacists,” Fegan said. “With DXM, we'd like to prevent the severe restrictions that were put on us with PSE because it creates a barrier for the legitimate customer and adds one more issue for the pharmacist to deal with.”
Fifteen of the 200 retail members of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Alexandria, Va., have put an age restriction on DXM in the past two years, according to Kevin Nicholson, vice president pharmacy regulatory affairs.
Nicholson declined to name the chains but said they include drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchandisers.
“We haven't asked our members to do this, although we do as an association support federal legislation for an age restriction with the hope that it would prevent state and local jurisdictions from implementing the patchwork of requirements we are seeing with PSE.”
From an operational standpoint, it is difficult for a national chain to have different states and counties with their own restrictions, Nicholson said.
Although the Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va., hasn't surveyed its members comprehensively, spokesman Bill Greer named Safeway, Wal-Mart and “most major drug chains,” including Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreen and Brooks/Eckerd, as well as Target and Costco as a partial list of retailers imposing age restrictions on DXM.
Buehler Food Markets, Wooster, Ohio, is considering the age restriction as well as pulling affected products behind the pharmacy counter, partly because it has kept one brand of cough medicine behind its counters since 2003, said Verne Mounts, director of pharmacy.
Leaving the sales discretion up to its pharmacists, Buehler's pulled Coricidin, a cough-and-cold brand from Schering-Plough Health Care, St. Louis. The brand gained popularity among teens seeking to get a high from its 30 milligrams of DXM per dose, compared to the 10 milligrams in other brands like Robitussin from Wyeth Consumer Health Care, Madison, N.J.
“Consumer safety and professionalism exceed the administrative burden,” Mounts said.
Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., is considering the age restriction as well, John Beckner, director of pharmacy and health services, told SN.
FMI hasn't taken an official stance, but it agrees with the position of Ahold. “To the extent that the industry can show it is already doing all it can to keep these drugs out of the hands of teens who will abuse them, we don't really see the need for legislative action,” Greer said.