Tougher limits on buying cold and flu drugs to combat 'Breaking Bad' crystal meth labs

Customers are to face tough restrictions when buying over-the-counter cold and flu medicines from pharmacies in a bid to curb Breaking Bad -style crystal meth manufacturing labs.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) — formerly the Irish Medicines Board — is to introduce restrictions on the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine — the majority of which are available without prescription in pharmacies for the treatment of nasal congestions associated with colds and allergic conditions. Popular medicines containing pseudoephedrine include Sudafed, Nurofen Cold and Flu, and Benylin 4flu.

Following a consultation process, the HPRA has announced that medicine packs containing more than 720mg of pseudoephedrine will not be available without a prescription, and that all pharmacy sales of all medicines containing pseudoephedrine will be limited to one pack per transaction.

A spokesperson for the HPRA confirmed that the use of pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth — a process made famous in award-winning US TV show Breaking Bad — was one of the reasons behind the restrictions.

“Pseudoephedrine is associated with side effects when the recommended dose and/or duration of treatment is exceeded and is also associated with diversion in the manufacture of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine including crystal meth,” a spokesperson said.

“For these reasons, a number of countries control the sale of non-prescription pseudoephedrine by limiting its dose and pack size. The HPRA has reviewed the supply conditions for non-prescription pseudoephedrine with the relevant marketing authorisation holders for these medicines.”

It said there will be no immediate recall of stocks and that it anticipates the measures will be fully implemented by the end of 2016.

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Confirmation of the restrictions comes two months after a nurse facing allegations relating to the possession of crystal meth was found guilty of six counts of professional misconduct by the Nursing Board.

A disciplinary hearing found that John Benedict Butalid de Lara, aged 45, of Ballyfermot, ordered Sudafed using the names of several colleagues while he cared for elderly patients at the Royal Hospital Donnybrook from 2003 until 2014.

The Irish Pharmacy Union had previously warned against making medicines containing pseudoephedrine available only on prescription.

“The IPU welcomes the fact that the new restrictions allow pseudoephedrine products to remain available to the public for legitimate purposes through community pharmacies. These are safe, useful and effective medicines,” a spokesperson said.

“If pseudoephedrine had become a prescription-only medicine, this would have resulted in huge numbers of people who need medication for genuine common medical complaints such as cold or sinusitis requiring doctors’ appointments to get the medicine.”


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