One cloudy morning in June, 2014, I strolled into my local Fred Meyer in Seattle, WA, and stood in line at the pharmacy. My 13 year old son had a runny nose and an annoying cough. I needed to re-up my Sudafed. The red pills I had bought OTC (over-the-counter) had become popular in the last 15 years as the main ingredient for ?kitchen sink cocaine? or methamphetamine. Now in WA state, common cold sufferers waited in line to show their driver?s license and sign into a log book. I was ok with it because I knew that many drug companies were using phenylephrine to replace pseudoephedrine and it was not as effective.
After being abused by meth traffickers, pseudoephedrine was no longer OTC. Fortunately, I didn?t fall into the category of Meth Head. Yet my name was on a national registry (NPLEX) listed as a person who had purchased their legal limit of pseudoephedrine for the time being. But judging by the size of my thighs and the fact that I have most of my teeth, this was either a mistake or a case of identity theft.
I tried to purchase a box of generic 24 count Sudafed and was turned down at the cash register by a woman wearing an oversized lab coat. She entered my driver?s license number twice very slowly. ?Oh no,? she exclaimed, ?You can not purchase this product right now,? handing back my driver?s license. After looking back at the screen, and then at me, she gave me a tight-lipped smile, with eyebrows raised. I saw her thought bubble (?Oh no, here it comes, the ?Sudafed Rage? they told us about. I?m not surprised.?)
I looked at her blankly and said, ?What? I need those for my son and I haven?t bought it recently.? I pulled out an empty box of Sudafed to underline my need. This only gained the attention of another pharmacy tech who was drawn to this crack cocaine mini-drama unfolding right in front of her.
Then (I might have raised my voice) I asked to talk to a manager. I looked around and saw another person behind the counter pretending not to notice me; an IT guy I?ll call Stan, Boeing Company circa 1975. He was sporting a Tom Selleck, Magnum P.I. mustache and wearing a white button down shirt with a fat red striped tie. He was updating the pharmacy computer?s fire walls or something equally important.
And when I tried to make eye contact with Stan, he looked away at an imaginary IBM server (aka happy place.) I asked him if it was possible that my husband stopped by and bought Sudafed without me knowing it. He said ?Oh, no, it?s definitely attached to your history by your driver?s license, so your husband?s history would not show up.?
Finally I saw a friendly face. He was the actual pharmacist and he walked over to help.
I felt like I had an ally. He asked the computer guy if there?s a way to override the system and allow me to purchase the Sudafed. Nope, he said, because it?s a federal program with a national registry so therefore no way an individual store in any state can do an override. Stan mumbled something about identity theft and moved away to another register so no one would address him directly. The pharmacist explained that maybe it was a mistake, or maybe a sign of identity theft & I could try to buy it at a different store, like Safeway.
I started to leave since I?d only wanted to run into Fred Meyer to grab orange juice, seltzer water & a box of Sudafed. I didn?t deserve to be listed on a drug abuse national registry. I tell the staff as if we?re in on the same joke, that while I understood the need to restrict this ingredient, there were many other drugs that were way better than Sudafed (note: this digression didn?t help my case.) I started to sweat.
Thankfully, a pharmacy tech took pity on me and said, ?Do you have the receipt from the register?? Nope. The pharmacist threw it away. The tech tells me I need the transaction ID number on the receipt to find out anything on the e-tracking web site. The receipt is fished out of the trash, I mumble thank you and hurry over to the beverage aisle to grab club soda and a large bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
When I got home, I went to the URL listed on my receipt. This URL (http://www.NPLEXanswers.com) brought up only a lame one page website with no real answers. I typed in the receipt transaction ID number and it said no transaction number existed. My only real clue was the tag line on the bottom of the page that read, ?To comply with the Combat Meth Epidemic Act of 2005, we electronically monitor sales of products containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine.? And then ?Copyright 2010 NADDI.? So I clicked on the link to NADDI (National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators) and found a 1?800 number.
The phone rang and I anticipated a phone tree that would force me to peck out my numbers like a circus chicken, and then a woman answered the phone, ?NADDI? with a calming southern accent. I explained my situation and she said she was in Kentucky and hadn?t heard of this happening, but would try to find out why I?m on this registry. She said she couldn?t find any more information other than yes, I was on the list, so I waited while she typed. I interjected with a tentative ?Hi ..?? and she was still there and never put me on hold. I was issued a ticket number which I scribbled down. She said I?d get a call back within 24 hours and to remember to hold on to the ticket number to access my case. I thanked her and thought, Oh I will, government lady, I will.
About two hours later as I walked my dog, I got a call from an unlisted number and a man with a southern accent asked for my ticket number and transaction ID number.
He searched my name and when he it came up, he couldn?t find out any history, because he said the system shows the transaction was not completed. I asked, ?What does that mean?? He said, ?Well, you didn?t actually buy anything.? I said, ?Well, it wasn?t as if I didn?t give it the old Girl Scout try, they just wouldn?t let me buy the Sudafed, due to my name being in NPLEX.?
He said he?d look into it further. He suggested going to another pharmacy on the following day. So I thanked him and hung up. My Jack Russell terrier and I headed home. I went online to post on FB and Twitter about my situation. My friends were amused. My day was getting better. I poured a tall glass of wine and poured my son a glass of orange juice to wash down one of the last little red pills.
Two days later, after work, I went to a Safeway pharmacy and the tech at the register read my driver?s license, punched in my info, not once, but three times, and right when I was about to say, ?Uh, there might be a problem?? she said, ?Ok. What kind do you want, 3 hour or 12 hour?? I breathed a sigh of relief.
Thank you kind-hearted Kentucky NPLEX employees for removing me from the list of known abusers. For more on this meth e-tracking solution, go to www.nplexservice.com.
So, what is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 1.6 million people (0.6 percent of the population) reported using methamphetamine in the past year, and 774,000 (0.3 percent) reported using it in the past month. The average age of new methamphetamine users in 2016 was 23 years old.
Back in March, 2010, WA State Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill to restrict meth cooks from ?smurfing,? which means visiting one store after another to buy way more than their fair share of cold medicine containing ephedrine.
Washington became the 10th state to approve the e-tracking system, which is provided free to states by major pharmaceutical companies. And here?s where the Kentucky piece fits in: ?The program NPLEX was modeled after a system that worked successfully in Kentucky to fight home-cooked meth.?
?Classic Meth? is comprised of many harmful ingredients including the plant alkaloid pseudoephedrine. These include:
Acetone (nail polish remover)
Battery acid (sulfuric acid)
Brake cleaner (toluene)
Drain cleaner (sodium hydroxide)
Reactive metals (sodium or lithium)
Starter fluid (ether)
(source: About.com Guide 2/27/2004)
The similarity between pseudoephedrine?s chemical structure to the structure of several amphetamines has made it a popular and cheaper chemical precursor to use to make methamphetamine and methcathinone.