Patriot act makes it harder to get real Sudafed

After Paul Boutin cured his blocked sinuses with one does of old-school Sudafed, he looked into the reason why it was taken from the shelves, and learned that Senator Diane Feinstein decided to make it harder to get as part of the PATRIOT act.

To buy original formula Sudafed, Wal-fed, or other pseudophedrine sinus medicine that actually works (not the new Sudafed PE), go to your supermarket or drugstore and look in the cold remedies sections where it used to be. They now have little fake boxes or cards you take to the pharmacist to say "I want one of these." The pharmacist checks your ID and you sign for it.

Why can't you buy Sudafed over the counter anymore?

The renewed USA PATRIOT Act signed into law in March includes a "Meth Act" aimed at reducing production of methamphetamines, which can be manufactured from pseudophedrine, aka Sudafed. That's why Sudafed changed their over-the-counter formula to Sudafed PE. You can still buy Sudafed original if you go to the pharmacist at Safeway or Walgreens. But you can only buy one box a day and three a month, and you need to present a photo ID and sign a log for the pharmacist. The idea is to keep meth dealers from buying Sudafed in quantity to cook it into methamphetamine. The bill was attached to the Patriot Act after co-authors Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jim Talent (R-MO) were unable to get it passed by other means.

Maybe this will encourage people to harvest their own ephedra (aka ma huang / Mormon tea) and make their own decongestant medicine. Link


Several people have emailed to let me know they think that people who suffer from debilitating sinus headaches should stop whining and let the government do its job ridding the planet of drug abuse. (Because the government has a really good track record in the War or Drugs.) I disagree with these people.

For one thing, I'm one of those crazy (small l) libertarians who thinks drug laws, on the whole, hurt society more than they help society, so I don't like this law. It's a shame that some people ruin their lives and their families' lives by using meth and other drugs, but the innocent people killed by muggers who need money to buy expensive drugs, the enrichment of street gangs and organized crime rings that sell illegal drugs, the corruption of government officials who take bribes from smugglers, the people who are falsely arrested on trumped up drug charges, the people who are killed by crazed bounty hunters and police raiding the wrong houses, the seizure of property belonging to people who didn't know there were drugs on their property, and the imprisonment of non-violent drug users amount to a bigger problem, I think. I am in favor of abolishing all drug laws.

For another thing, the meth epidemic has been hyped out of proportion. Jack Shafer, editor of Slate, did a nice job debunking the meth epidemic myth last year.

Tons of comments in link below.

Reader comments:

Sean says:

You might want to let people know that if they want to grow their own Ma Huang, Bouncing Bear Botanicals is a GREAT source.

They're fast shippers (I've gotten orders in 4 days by mail!) and an all-around good company for anyone interested in hard-to-find herbs and ethnobotanicals.

Amanda says:

The other ridiculous side effect of this is that if you and your child are both sick, you cannot buy appropriate medicine for both of you in one trip. And God FORBID you need to buy daytime and nighttime stuff for both you AND a child within one month -- that would exceed your limit of purchases for that month! I ran into this a few weeks ago when I was trying to purchase both daytime and nighttime medicine for my child. (It was 11 PM and I wanted to be able to leave daytime medicine behind me at home for my partner the next day rather than force another trip to the store when dealing with a sick kid. Instead, I had to make a second trip to the store in the morning and bring it back for him before going to work.)

LeAnn says:

I recently found out about this horrible part of the Patriot Act too when I went to buy some Advil Cold. I told the woman at Target: "Geez, Big Brother is watching," and she thought I was horrible for saying so and that this was great.

People don't even realize when their civil liberties are being taken away and what that really means. As a librarian, I see this all the time, with people not caring if library records are read by the government, but it's a big deal!

Thanks for posting this...maybe it will get people more enraged about the Patriot Act who previously thought it wasn't that big a deal.

DrMeglet says:

Thanks for posting the bit, I had no idea this new
enforcement was part of the Patriot Act. My

Advil Cold & Sinus is the only thing that works for my
headaches of doom, as well as initial +doesn't knock
me out medicine when I come down with bronchitis. I
recently found out the new rules trying to get a new
box after my local grocery store (Giant) gave me one
of those printout coupons. The pharmacy wrote down my
diver's license number, address, and had me sign, I
felt like I was going to have to promise my first born
child. What's worse is that everything was written on
a sheet of paper in a binder that the next guy who
comes in to buy the stuff can read and copy.

The worst part of this is that there is no longer the
"value" box of Advil Cold & Sinus, which was the
cheapest deal out there. Checking at my local Target
after I used up the previous box (with the
aforementioned bronchitis), they didn't even have
Advil Cold & Sinus in stock, and didn't know when or
if it would come in, and hinted that the shortage had
something to do with the new rules. The good news is
that local CVS was nice, efficient, and only needed to
glance at the ID, rather than record my every move
(the CVS store keychain thingy takes care of that).

My boss was also tripped up by the Sudafed change,
picking up the off-the-shelf PE during a business
trip, and then spending the rest of the trip in misery
because the reformulation did nothing for her

I really don't feel safer as I cough and live through
the bad headaches.

Kelly says:

Thanks very much for the post today on the War on Decongestants. It
would be great if you could remind people to contact the
senators who pushed this foolishness through in the first place.

Contact Sentator Feinstein (

By e-mail:

Phone: (202) 224-3841

Fax: (202) 228-3954

Contact Senator Talent (

Phone: (202) 224-6154

Alan says:

Reminder: Jim Talent, the Senate's Sudafed cop, was defeated by Claire McCaskill on November 7, so it probably won't do much good to register your displeasure with him now. The voters of Missouri have already done so.

Josh says:

I think it might be appropriate to note some other effects the meth war has had, as well.

One that hits close to home for me is the culture of suspicion towards laboratory equipment. As one of those odd nerds who likes to collect labware and occasionally tinker with benign chemistry endeavors, I regularly have to put careful thought into what I buy and where I buy it from, lest I be added to some list somewhere... or, worse, spontaneously served with a search warrant and forced to sit by while law enforcement rifles through my belongings. I've heard horror stories of college students who bought a lab coat and sudafed using the same credit card and were served with search warrants as a result.

That is, of course, assuming I can even find a source to buy something that I seek. In some cases it's just not possible. Hell, I'm told that in texas it's illegal to own laboratory equipment at all.

Mike says:

Interesting news on meth...turns out the Mexicans are replacing our shoddy, backyard US meth with purer mexican laboratory meth

I'm one of those folks who has to have pseudoephedrine this time of year (and spring), so that means I also have to become a suspected enemy combatant every time I go to the pharmacy. Oddly enough, I wouldn't mind if it was actually cutting down on the supply of the bad stuff, but it's actually making the problem worse.

Ryan says:

I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned yet with all the responses this post has received, but as of July 1st of this year, it's illegal to sell medicines containing pseudoephedrine to someone in the state of Oregon without a prescription.

Phil says:

I realize that our War or Drugs does not have a stellar record and I, too, think that legalization is ultimately a better route. But there is one victory that is particularly appropriate to the discussion. How come we never hear about Quaaludes? Because the DEA was able to stop its illegal production at the source. And that's what is trying to be done with methamphetamine.

Amanda says:

Completely ridiculous.

If meth dealers are that eager to get their paws on Sudafed, they
will. A "feel good" and "tough on crime" law linked to the Patriot Act
isn't going to stop any would-be home chemists from finding a way to
purchase (legally or illegally) what they need.