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Kentucky study links pseudophedrine sales, meth busts

October 16, 2012|By Jon Bardin
  • Two rocks of crystal meth.
Two rocks of crystal meth. (Phil Walter / Getty Images )

It used to be that you could walk into any pharmacy and buy as much Sudafed as you wanted to. But times have changed -- pseudophedrine, a key ingredient in prescription-strength cold medicines such as Sudafed, is perhaps equally well known today for its role in methamphetamine production. As a result, states have put restrictions on how much of the strong stuff an individual can buy.

Now, a study of pseudophedrine sales in Kentucky asks whether all that hassle has done the trick and finds that we may still have a long way to go to break the link between consumer pseudophedrine sales and meth production.

The study, reported this week in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., took advantage of a state law requiring people purchasing medications that contain the drug to enter their information into a computer database.

Using that data, researchers were able to determine how much of the drug was sold in each Kentucky county and compare it with the number of meth busts in local police logs. The researchers also used the number of police officers per county and the percentage of high school graduates in each county as controls for the level of policing and socioeconomic status, respectively.

The researchers found a significant association between pseudophedrine sales and meth busts: In any given county, an increase in pseudophedrine sales of 13 grams per 100 people translated to an additional meth lab busted. The results suggest that the computer databases could actually be used to predict where drug busts are most likely to take place.

An association between pseudophedrine sales and meth labs is likely unsurprising to anyone who sets their DVR to record "Breaking Bad." But the authors argue that the association is significant because it shows that the Kentucky laws -- which require electronic tracking and limit purchases to an amount equal to a full daily dose per person -- are not getting the job done.

Instead, the researchers suggest, perhaps the purchase of pseudophedrine should require evidence of "a true medical need for its decongestant properties."

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