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February 25, 2007 - Texarkana Gazette (TX)

Column: We're Losing The Drug War On Two Fronts

By Les Minor, Managing Editor

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A new army of conscripts have been enlisted to fight the war on drugs, and right about now they are feeling fairly mutinous.

This is cold and flu season, and the troops are sick of the sacrifice they are making, particularly since our generals seem to be losing the fight.

Most of us want to do our part to undermine the spread of illicit drugs, and there are few more deadly than methamphetamines. But when the tradeoff is our health, or at least some relief from nasty cold symptoms, those of us in the rank and file have to question whether what has been gained is worth our misery.

What has been gained by taking many common cold medications off the shelf is lawmen have been able to deprive meth makers of essential ingredients they need.

One of the casualties of this initiative is nasal decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine (PDE) have been severely restricted by state and federal law. This is the good stuff. Now you can't just pull these medicines off the pharmacy shelf and you almost feel like a criminal asking for them.

Those of us who need this medicine to fight head colds don't want to be considered draft dodgers, with no sense of duty, but certainly we're having second thoughts.

The problem is that the stuff replacing pseudoephedrine doesn't really work, or doesn't work very well. (Some less versed in diplomatic skills would say they are totally worthless, but we're being polite here.)

But don't believe us about this, we who stumble down pharmacy aisles without medical degrees but with red eyes and desperate attitudes. All we have are ugly anecdotes.

Ask the experts. The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published articles reporting the same thing.

In the British Journal, Dr. Ronald Eccles writes that phenylephrine (PE) is a "poor substitute for pseudoephedrine" as an orally administered decongestant, and that (PE) and its "efficacy as a decongestant is unproven."

Or check with Jennifer L. Boen who covers health and medical issues for the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services and the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. She reports that six other studies showed little difference between phenylephrine and a placebo.

But the pharmaceutical industry is unduly proud of this switch.

One bottle of night time cold medicine even has a flag on its front that proudly proclaims: New Formula-Pseudoephedrine Free. It might as well be championing its ineffectiveness. The old formula worked. This one doesn't.

So what we have here is easy availability of what doesn't work and difficult availability of what does work.

Maybe it would be worth it if the trade was helping to control the illegal drug problem. That's hardly the case.

Several law enforcement officials have said that because of the restrictions on these cold medications, there are fewer meth labs in the region.

Unfortunately, instead of making it here, the drugs are now being shipped in from elsewhere, including Mexico. Not only that, but a purer grade of meth called "ice" is quickly replacing meth in the market.

So restrictions on cold medications haven't solved the problem, only mutated it.

As Dr. Eccles points out, citing several studies in the U.S., "restricting the sale of PDE to the public as a medicine has had little impact on the morbidity and number of arrests associated with methamphetamine abuse."

From the perspective of a cold sufferer: We're not making ourselves feel better; We're not winning the war against narcotics and street drugs.

We're making ourselves miserable and for no good reason.

While the world of legal cold medications has gotten less potent, the world of illegal street drugs has gotten stronger and more sophisticated.

The wrong folks are suffering and have plenty to sneeze about.

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