Crime spike fear if pseudoephedrine back on sale

The new government plans to loosen rules to allow the sale of cold medication containing...
The new government plans to loosen rules to allow the sale of cold medication containing pseudoephedrine in pharmacies. Photo: RNZ
Bringing back over-the-counter cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine could make chemist shops a target for robberies and ram-raids,  a pharmacist warns.

Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant used in cold and flu medications, but has been prescription-only since 2011 because it can be used to make the illegal drug methamphetamine, also known as 'P'. 

But in its first 100 days one of the things the new coalition government plans to do is loosen the rules to allow the sale of cold medication containing pseudoephedrine. 

Mangawhai Pharmacist Lanny Wong told RNZ's Checkpoint programme today she was worried the change would result in more crime.  

 Lanny Wong. Photo: RNZ
Lanny Wong. Photo: RNZ
"When it was available I can remember many pharmacies that I worked at were always worried about break-ins."

There was also a need to ID people and to refuse to sell them medication containing pseudoephedrine if it was suspected they were buying it to make methamphetamine or if they were suspected of on-selling it to dealers to make P, she said.

"And it's a very uncomfortable and unsafe situation for pharmacists to be in."

There was mixed feedback from pharmacists about whether pseudoephedrine should return to being an over the counter drug, Wong said.

It was an effective drug, but from a health perspective the conditions it treated were relatively minor in the form of colds or flu, she said.

"We really need to think about the balance between benefits and harm, and that's how we think about it through medicine and pharmacists will have to make a really conscious decision about what to do."

Wong said community need was how she decided what to stock in her pharmacy and if the community wanted it she would stock it.

"But if it becomes a danger and you know there are P labs starting in my community, or there's the risk of break-ins, of putting my staff at risk of hold-ups and things like that then I have to make that tough decision not to sell it."

If they wanted to bring it back, safeguards needed to be put in place, she said.

Pharmacists could also fall victim to ram-raids if they stocked pseudoephedrine, she said.

If the government chooses to reintroduce the drug to pharmacies they should qualify for the same assistance to prevent ram-raids that the previous government has made available to dairies, she said.

"It is still a precursor to make P and if it is available locally then we will probably see the return of P labs at home."

If it were made available then safety measures would need to be put in place, she said.

"We know what the harm is and we've already seen it in the past, so if we're going to bring it back then we need to have measures in place to prevent those harms."

There are also now cut price pharmacies whose business model is to sell cheap products, she said.

"We need to think about what measures are in place to make sure you know people just can't walk into a big department store and buy lots of pseudoephedrine products."

In the past, people buying pseudoephedrine had to present ID to the pharmacist and pharmacies would keep a record of the sale, she said.

But she said that was quite haphazard and there was no national database with each pharmacy having their own processes.

"So if we're going to bring it back and we already know what the harm was then we can be more proactive about it, maybe start a national register, you know have a way that we can record things so there's a bit more information sharing between pharmacies so we can safeguard our community."

The Medicine Classification Committee would deal with the issue of what safeguards were necessary, she said.

"So perhaps they might want to consider bringing it back as a pharmacist only medicine, you know where you have to have a consultation with the pharmacist before you can purchase this product."