Three weeks ago, my throat started hurting. About two weeks ago, I started getting a runny nose. Then the mucus started to get bloody. Because I was traveling and had taken several sick days recently, I decided to power through it with the aid of over-the-counter medicine. There was little relief. I had to stop using my Sleep Apnea mask because my nose was so congested. The result was not only was I feeling sick, but exhausted as well from lack of real sleep. So two days ago, I cracked. I went to the pharmacist and - gasp - asked for Sudafed. I had to sign an electronic disclaimer and was told sternly that I could not have more than a certain amount of this dangerous drug. After two days of taking the pills, my nose has cleared up and I am able to sleep. Thank goodness - if it hadn't, I'd be risking prison.
Take, for example, the family mentioned in this article by Jeffrey Tucker. The father and mother have been arrested an convicted of a Class C Misdemeanor simply for buying too many boxes of Sudafed. They're lucky. One woman in Alabama, an habitual offender to be sure, was sentenced to twenty years in prison for buying "four boxes of medication containing pseudoephedrine at three locations within 12 days in December 2009."
The justification for this iron fist is the possible use of pseudoephedrine in the creation of meth. As my colleague John Berlau warned, this was one of the side-effects of the PATRIOT Act, which was used to advance the war on drugs far more than the war on terror. Drug warriors claim that the restrictions have significantly reduced the number of meth labs in the US. Yet the gap in the market caused by the restrictions has been filled by cartel-controlled crystal meth from Mexico.
But what about the rest of us who'd rather get stuff out of our nose than put stuff up it? Drug companies, terrified by the restrictions, swiftly brought out "new formula" cold relief medicine using phenylephrine (which had been abandoned by the free market in favor of pseudoephedrine). But according to the most recent clinical study, phenylephrine is no more effective than a placebo. If you've been suckered into buying a product containing phenylephrine, like I was, you were wasting your money.
While there does not appear to have been any increase in sick leave taken since the restrictions were put into effect, it is inconceivable that there hasn't been an decrease in quality of life for those taking an ineffective medicine when previously they would have taken an effective one. The last few years have also seen other economic pressures that presumably would minimize incentive to take sick leave.
So it seems that the pseudoephedrine restrictions have resulted in stronger drugs, an intensification of the drug war on our southern border and a reduction in the quality of life for law-abiding Americans up to and including the risk of jail time for being ill. As unintended consequences go, those ones are a doozy. If the new Congress is serious about tackling ineffective regulation, these restrictions should be one of the first to go.