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Oregon Grocery Association Opposes Governor's Meth Rule

SALEM, Ore. - Gov. Ted Kulongoski's emergency administration rule to fight Oregon's widespread use of methamphetamine by requiring people to show ID when they purchase over-the-counter cold medicines has come under fire from the Oregon Grocery Association (OGA).

Gov. Kulongoski said in a press conference last week that he had requested the Oregon Board of Pharmacy to enact the emergency administrative rule, which will be in effect for 180 days. The governor said that during the next legislative session he would work with legislators to make the rule permanent.

The governor's rule specifically names cold medicines as a problem because many contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, which are key ingredients in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine. Under the rule, sales of such products will have to be conducted only behind a secured counter, such as a pharmacy counter in a grocery store, and retailers will have to keep a record of every purchase so that officials can monitor people who make multiple purchases in a short time, an indicator that they could be involved in making meth.

According to the OGA, however, such a measure will end up being more of an inconvenience for customers and retailers than a deterrent to meth use. The trade group is instead calling for more stringent law enforcement to battle the problem.

OGA president Joe Gilliam told Progressive Grocer that the rule would not be effective against meth labs because, according to a study by a local newspaper on the meth industry, 80 percent of meth ingredients come to the United Stated through Mexico, with most of the rest coming in via Canada, so purchases from stores actually account for very little of the ingredients used to make meth.

Gilliam pointed out the voluntary measures grocers in the state that had already adopted, such as moving cold medicines behind counters, placing surveillance cameras in areas where such products were sold, and, in the case of some smaller stores, not carrying any cold medicines at all.

Gilliam said grocers are unclear about the log they would be required to keep, and raised the questions of who would go through the list of buyers and how customers flagged for making multiple purchases would be treated.

He said grocers had been working with the task force appointed by the governor to address the meth problem, but attributed the governor's decision to go ahead with the present rule to political motives, namely the wish to be perceived as dealing with the meth problem ahead of White House drug czar John Walters' visit to the state. Gilliam concluded that his association's view was that there needed to be "more criminal sanctions and locking the criminals up, not the cough medicines."

Kulongoski's rule has garnered support from Walters, who said it would help reduce supplies of ingredients used to make meth, according to published reports.

Kulongoski's spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor stressed in an interview with Progressive Grocer that the purpose of the rule was not to obstruct the sale of cold medicines to consumers with a legitimate reason for buying them, but to "protect Oregon's communities from the meth epidemic."

Taylor added that the grocery industry and others would have the chance to present their concerns at a public hearing scheduled to be held by the Oregon Board of Pharmacy on Monday.

-- Bridget Goldschmidt
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