Now from coast-to-coast, it is once again legal to purchase cold and allergy medicines containing the decongestant pseudoephedrine (PSE) over-the-counter (OTC). In a major victory for consumers, Oregon has repealed a 15-year-old law that banned OTC sales of certain medicines for colds and allergies containing PSE. In 2006, Oregon became the first of two states to enact laws that made PSE a controlled substance only available with a doctor’s prescription (Rx). The new Oregon law returns PSE to OTC status, allowing consumers to purchase 3.6 grams of PSE per day, up to 9 grams per month. It also institutes a new technology-based system already utilized in 37 other states to enforce PSE sales limits. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate and was signed by Governor Kate Brown with an effective date of January 1, 2022.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) has long opposed restrictions on consumer access to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OTC medicines. Oregon’s “Rx-only” law for PSE was an unnecessary policy, so CHPA and numerous medical, consumer, and community stakeholders worked closely with Oregon lawmakers to change it. “This is a big win for public health and medicine affordability,” said Carlos Gutierrez, vice president of state and local government affairs at CHPA. “Oregon was the first state to enact this strict law and now the last one to remove it. It sends a message to every corner of the U.S. that OTC access and affordability are critical to an effective healthcare system.”
Oregon’s Rx-only restrictions began in 2006 as a local response to the nationwide methamphetamine epidemic, but it severely limited OTC access to PSE for consumers and added new costs to the healthcare system by requiring a doctor’s prescription for what is nationally a non-prescription medicine. Lawmakers hoped to prevent criminals from misusing PSE as an ingredient to “cook” homemade meth. But other states took a more consumer-friendly approach and preserved the OTC status of PSE by relying on new technology – the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) – to prevent criminal access to PSE. NPLEx is a real-time, stop-sale technology that allows retailers to enforce sales limits and assists law enforcement in preventing illegal sales. Currently adopted by 37 states, NPLEx has proven to be the superior approach to preserving consumer access to PSE while also preventing criminal diversion. When the new law is enacted, Oregon will be the 38th state to adopt NPLEx technology.
Passage of the Oregon bill also comes on the heels of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) report, the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment, which states that meth lab seizures are at their lowest level in nearly two decades. Lawmakers around the country have tried restricting sales of PSE in the past to limit the ingredient’s diversion into the production of methamphetamine. According to the DEA report, most methamphetamine in the United States now comes from transnational organized crime syndicates in Mexico.