WASHINGTON, DC — April 4, 2005 — Putting the cough, cold and allergy products used to illegally make methamphetamine behind a pharmacy counter would create a hardship for more than four in 10 consumers (44 percent), according to a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive® released today. The survey of 2,900 U.S. adult consumers — the first to gauge their views on sales restrictions enacted or proposed in more than 30 states and Congress — was commissioned by the National Consumers League (NCL) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

Reinforcing this view, 62 percent do not believe restricting sales of these products to pharmacies is a reasonable measure to control meth production.

Consumers are far more receptive to less severe restrictions to combat the meth problem. Large majorities regard the following solutions as “somewhat” or “very reasonable”:

  • Putting such cough, cold and allergy products behind “a counter, not a pharmacy counter” — 71 percent.

  • Putting them in a locked display case — 62 percent.

  • Limiting the quantity of such products that people can buy — 84 percent.

  • Restricting the age of purchasers — 74 percent.

  • Requiring buyers to sign a log book and show a photo ID — 59 percent.

About 250 products on the market today contain the ingredient pseudoephedrine, which meth users cook down and extract to produce the illegal drug methamphetamine. According to law enforcement estimates, small-time abusers obtain such products from retailers to produce about 20 percent of the meth available in the U.S. The remaining 80 percent is made in large quantities by superlabs in Mexico, Canada and elsewhere.

To combat small-time production, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee enacted laws restricting sales of some or all of these products to pharmacies, in some cases by classifying them as Schedule V drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. Oregon issued a regulation. Congress is considering the Combat Meth Act (S. 103, H.R. 314), which would place such products on Schedule V nationally, triggering a requirement in 17 states that these common over-the-counter drugs be dispensed only through a doctor’s prescription.

“If sales of products containing pseudoephedrine must be restricted, the burden should not be borne by everyday consumers who depend on these products,” said NCL President Linda Golodner. “This survey shows that many consumers are willing to live with some restrictions — but many also do not feel that restricting sales to pharmacies is reasonable. This may be because of pharmacies’ limited hours and the fact they are not widely accessible in many low-income neighborhoods and rural areas.”

“Many supermarkets are already helping law enforcement curb meth production by limiting sales of these products, by putting them behind counters or in locked glass cases,” said FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds. “We are training clerks to look out for suspicious purchases and to alert police, following the national Meth Watch program.” (http://www.methwatch.com)

Both FMI and NCL support a federal law that would place the kinds of sales restrictions that most consumers support. Such a law would curb small-time meth production nationwide and free up law enforcement to focus on the superlabs and gangs that account for 80 percent of the problem. Both also believe that enforcement efforts and increased penalties should be aimed at stopping criminals, not law-abiding consumers.

Common Cough, Cold and Allergy Products Are Widely Used

The poll found that more than three-quarters of consumers (77 percent) have purchased such products in the past year. Greater proportions of those with children in the household (86 percent) and particularly mothers with children (90 percent) have purchased these drugs.

Among those who buy the products, half (50 percent) say it is “very important” to be able to do so “any time of the day.” This figure increases in households with children (56 percent) and among mothers with children (61 percent).

Four-fifths of the respondents who purchase these drugs rely on them to relieve the symptoms of their colds and allergies, including 33 percent who rely on them “a lot.”

Where Consumers Buy the Products

Consumers purchase the drugs at multiple outlets, led by discount stores (71 percent), drug stores (64 percent) and supermarkets (49 percent). Restricting sales to pharmacies would severely limit their availability in supermarkets since only 9,900 of the nation’s 33,800 supermarkets have such departments. In addition, no convenience store could sell such medicines as well.

Familiarity With the Meth Issue

Half the population (51 percent) is either very or somewhat familiar with the problem with meth abuse. Awareness is higher in the West (59 percent) and among families with children aged 13-17 (62 percent).


The poll was conducted online from March 24-28. Based on responses by 2,906 U.S. adults, it has a sampling error of +/- 1.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The data were weighted to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity and propensity to be online.