Caffeine is not the only stimulant that is getting abused in the United States. While not as widespread as the drug commonly found in coffee, Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are increasingly sucking our children into a black hole of addiction.
For those who don’t know, pseudoephedrine is the decongestant commonly found in many cold medicines such as Sudafed and Nyquil. It is also a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that has become the No. 1 priority for law enforcement in many Midwest and Southeastern states, reports The New York Times.
While 80 percent of the drug is produced by illegal labs in Mexico and the Central Valley of California, teenagers looking for ways to pay for their addictions, or just to make a quick buck, have been making methamphetamine in home laboratories from the cold medicine, reports the Times.
What’s such a powerful drug doing in cold medicine? Manufacturers began using it after other formulations were banned or were found to be dangerous. Ephedrine, a chemically related drug, was commonly found in herbal sports products until 2003 when the FDA banned it. At the time, the supplement industry cried foul because the drug’s cousin was still in cold medicine.
I’m not sure why the FDA thinks pseudoephedrine is any safer, though I know it does work for many adults. In fact, my friend Renee over at LAPD Wife joked that she got busted by Costco, which would not let her leave with two big containers of Nyquil and Sudafed. Renee’s husband Jake said he hadn’t seen meth labs using cold medicine, but as mentioned above, that’s because the California labs are much bigger and buy chemicals in bulk.
As it turns out, California already has laws against selling more than nine grams-worth of any ephedrine-based drug over the counter, according to California Legislative Information. Other states and Congress are considering even stricter legislation, though the drug industry’s huge lobby is fighting the effort.
I also expressed concerns about the drug after I found it in the PediaCare we had given to our son, Seth. I thought the poor kids’ 4-month-old heart was going to jump out his mouth, it was pounding so fast and hard. Ironically, pseudoephedrine, like antidepressants, doesn’t work for kids, which you can read about here and here.
But those that seem to be having the most difficulty with the chemical are teens and young adults. Read about Megan from the Times story:
Another senior at Sobriety High (in Minnesota), Megan, 18, said she first tried methamphetamine when she was 13 and in the seventh grade. “I was with a girlfriend and her older brother, and I liked meth so much I knew I’d do it again and again,” she said.
At first, Megan said, she was able to obtain more of the drug from her friends free. But soon, she said, “My dealer asked me to do things with him, and other men, and girls.”
Like many female methamphetamine addicts, Megan became a prostitute. She cried at the memory.
There are hints that athletes also favor the drug. More than half of 122 surveyed college hockey players used a stimulant to enhance performance, finds a study in The Physician and Sportsmedicine. And 46 percent said they used pseudoephedrine while 38 percent admitted to using ephedrine. A total of 11 percent of the kids were using the drug at the time of the study.
Interestingly enough, these kids know the drugs are dangerous. Almost 91 percent know pseudoephedrine can cause hypertension, sudden death, heart attack and/or sleep disturbances.
It’s hard to say what’s going to happen next. There are a lot of adults who love this drug for controlling their sinuses. And the drug companies are doing their part to keep one of their big money makers on the market. “It’s fair to say that a substantial portion of the profits from cold medicines come from people buying them to cook meth.” Senator Dianne Feinstein tells the Times
To win a federal limit on the drug – such as requiring an adult signature to obtain it from the pharmacist – will require the support of the law enforcement community, says Feinstein. At least the drug industry has one less reason to fight the limits: Pfizer just introduced phenylephrine-based Sudafed PE, a drug that can’t be made into methamphetamine.
But as always, I worry most about children. It seems to me that while we focus so much energy and money fighting the drug wars, it boggles the mind that we sell equally potent drugs over the counter at grocery stores. I for one, won’t miss them from the market.