Snifflers sign up as meth war rages on

Published April 4, 2007

I am standing in the cold-and-allergy medicine aisle at Target, my reddened eyes staring at the boxes on the shelves.

I am on the hunt for those little red pills that make all that oak pollen currently blanketing my car (and my dog, if she stands still long enough) mildly annoying rather than nearly debilitating.

But it's not here, the nondrowsy Sudafed that is my drug of choice, the magic potion to open my slits-for-eyes and clear my cobwebbed head. And I need it.

But I won't be fooled again. Already this allergy season I've been lulled into buying those Sudafed PE pills they put on the shelves because the law sent the good stuff behind the counter. It's like when they took the trans fat out of Fritos, only worse.

Because the good stuff - pseudoephedrine - is also a key ingredient in making crystal meth, one nasty and highly addictive illegal drug. In 2005, state law prohibited selling a customer so many boxes of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine that he has to stack them under his chin to get to the register.

So I wait bleary-eyed at the pharmacy, head buzzing like it houses bees. My cart, I notice, contains a bizarre collection of bathroom cleaner, Easter candy and Krazy Glue, random purchases you suddenly discover you need while walking through Target. I'm not sure I would sell someone looking like me an aspirin, much less something to make crystal meth.

The pharmacist couldn't be nicer, though. "You want the good stuff," she says. I so do.

Then comes the part that makes you feel as furtive as a shoplifter. They want your driver's license. They need your signature. You are in the System. You wait a few interminable seconds and, whew, the System says you pass. You get your drugs.

But try to buy more than your allotment of 9 base grams, or three boxes, and the System will assume you intend to head home and cook up a batch of very bad stuff. You will be refused.

Not being a fan of having my name in Systems, I get to wondering if Systems talk to each other.

I stop at Walgreens, hand over my ID, sign my name and - score - they let me buy more. No alarms sound; no armed officers come running. (Later, a Walgreens spokeswoman assures me their System talks only to other Walgreens.)

So is all this really necessary? Is it drug hysteria, an overreaction, like the current requirement that you carry only 3-ounce-or-less toothpastes and such in a clear plastic bag on a plane?

"It is the worst drug I have ever seen in my life," Hillsborough sheriff's Lt. Gary Ganey says when I call. Most of the meth here actually comes from super labs in Mexico and border states, Ganey says.

But Florida's behind-the-counter law helps slow down smaller "Beavis and Butt-Head labs," he says.

The Associated Press reports this week that officials credit a crackdown on the sale of pseudoephedrine and similar ingredients with a drop in mom-and-pop labs, and cites a drop in meth-related crime or emergency room visits in Minnesota, Montana and San Francisco. But the report also notes meth-related deaths are up in South Florida.

So fine. You'll find me in line at the pharmacy with my Easter candy, my driver's license and my handful of tissues, doing my part in the war on drugs.