WASHINGTON, DC — November 18, 2004 — As if the flu vaccine shortage weren’t enough to give people headaches, new government limits on the sales of hundreds of cough and cold remedies could trigger migraines, according to testimony today by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) 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 these products to be removed from 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 pseudoephedrine used to create methamphetamine. The products affected include such common names as Actifed, Allerest, Nyquil, Sinutab, Sudafed and Tylenol Allergy Sinus.

Testifying on behalf of the industry and FMI, Marsh Supermarkets Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Joseph Heerens emphasized that the industry strongly supports sales restrictions on such cold and cough remedies. “But 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.

“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.”

Nationwide, only about 15,000 of the more than 210,000 retail food stores have pharmacies, according to industry data — meaning that if the Oklahoma law were adopted nationally, consumers could not buy cough and cold products at nearly 200,000 outlets, ranging from convenience stores to conventional supermarkets.

Even in stores with pharmacies, Hereens noted that the availability of such products would be limited by store hours and space limits in the pharmacy department. “Our pharmacy departments are typically open less than 12 hours per day,” he testified. And owing to 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 products used to create methamphetamine, he said, the industry advocates a more comprehensive strategy and partnership among law enforcement, regulatory agencies, manufacturers and retailers.

Specifically, the industry supports tighter constraints on purchases of such products. Under current law, consumers may purchase nine grams of the product at a single time, while those sold in blister packs are exempt from this restriction. The industry supports lowering the sales limit to six grams and eliminating the exemption, he said. In addition, the industry and FMI advocate:

  • 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 create methamphetamine.

  • Promotion and funding of educational training programs for store employees concerning suspicious pseudoephedrine purchases, such as the Meth Watch Program (www.MethWatch.com).

  • Stiffer penalties for the manufacturing, distribution and possession of methamphetamine.

  • Greater federal regulatory authority, including licensing and inspection at the distributor level, especially secondary wholesalers.