Phoenix Copwatch
Home | Contact

  wants some laughs on how government idiots brag how they have made the world a better place to live but when in reality they have solve zero problems and made the world a far worse place to live - then read this article.

Original Article

Bad Medicine
Locking up cold medicine makes the politicians feel good -- but it won't put a dent in

Arizona's meth habit By Sarah Fenske

Published: Thursday, December 8, 2005

If you're super bored, or really desperate, you can make crystal meth from Tylenol Cold/Severe Congestion cool-burst caplets.

You need denatured ethanol, or acetone, or anhydrous ammonia. You need iodine crystals and red phosphorous.

And then you need 16,560 Tylenol caplets -- a purchase that alone will set you back $3,857, plus tax.

But if you get enough of those ingredients, and buy those 690 boxes of Tylenol, and spend hours boiling and filtering and then filtering all over again, you could, conceivably, end up with crystal meth.

One ounce of crystal meth.

An ounce that would cost you $400, tops, on the street.

And that is precisely why crystal meth users, no matter how badly addicted, aren't known to spend their time boiling and filtering Tylenol Cold/Severe Congestion cool-burst caplets.

There are better ways to get the drug. Cheaper ways.

Even the addicts in Arizona who "cook" their own crystal meth -- and the Drug Enforcement Agency is convinced there aren't too many left, now that cheap, potent Mexican meth has flooded the market -- don't use Tylenol Cold/Severe Congestion. They know they can get nine times the yield from Sudafed.

And that's why it's so bizarre that the city councils in Phoenix and Scottsdale have enacted tough new ordinances that restrict stuff like, well, Tylenol cold medicine. And that businesses like Walgreens are putting it behind the counter even in places without such laws.

Here's how it works:

As of this week, customers in Phoenix who want to buy decongestants containing any amount of pseudoephedrine must go to the pharmacy or another area where the product is kept under lock and key.

They're limited to three boxes, per month.

They'll have to show ID and sign a logbook.

And every month, the pages of the logbook will be faxed to the Phoenix Police Department, so the police can keep track of who's buying Tylenol Cold/Severe Congestion, and Aleve Cold and Sinus, and Robitussin.

If any store sells one of those products, and doesn't follow the rules, the cops can seize the stuff, legally.

That's the new law.

Welcome to the politics of Arizona's crystal meth crisis.

These days, politicians are so eager to look like they're doing something to stop the demon drug that they're locking up decongestants that are rarely, if ever, used in meth production.

And, yeah, they look tough. Hey, they're fighting big pharmaceutical companies and taking on child-killing meth cooks!

But it's mostly smoke and mirrors.

"This idea of regulating pseudoephedrine is 10 years late," says Jim Molesa, a DEA agent based in Flagstaff. Molesa is considered the leading authority on Mexican meth in Arizona.

"It's laughable," he says. "Are you that out of touch that you can't grasp the issue? Every community needs a comprehensive treatment program."

Indeed, with meth pouring in from Mexico and the local lab problem mostly under control, the idea of devoting so many resources to fight meth cooks is showy distraction, not effective public policy.

And what it's distracting us from is a complete mess.

The two key state officials who should be leading the charge on the state's meth crisis have dropped the ball in wildly different ways.

Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who's been so successful at running this red state that Republicans can't even come up with a serious gubernatorial challenger for 2006, has basically ignored the problem.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Terry Goddard, also a Democrat, has made crystal meth his crusade. But by focusing on labs -- the one meth-related problem in Arizona that's actually been declining for years -- his actions reek of political opportunism.

For Goddard, targeting meth labs has become a one-dimensional Western. The politicians and lawmen are in one corner, with their white hats and good intentions. In the other, the evil drug companies and their lackeys, who care nothing about the abuse of children.

Those who oppose his plan for taking on meth labs, he claimed in one press release, have capitulated to the "pharmaceutical industry."

But the truth is much more complicated.

There are pharmaceutical companies on both sides of the issue.

The new Phoenix ordinances, in fact, follow the game book of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies: Pfizer, the company that makes Sudafed.

The medicine that's actually used in meth labs.

Meanwhile, the real truth of Arizona's meth problem is being ignored.

Despite good indication that a significant number of Arizona residents have struggled with meth addiction for at least eight years, officials have yet to run an effective, statewide public health campaign about the dangers of the drug.

Our leaders haven't even figured out who's using meth, much less how to target potential addicts before they start.

Meanwhile, meth addicts are stuck with an inadequate treatment system that's seeing more and more users every year -- a system that no one is willing to fund enough to do the job properly. Not insurance companies, and not the government. (See "Meth Treatment.")

These are large, complicated problems, problems that defy easy sound bites. Problems that can't be solved by the next election cycle.

Which is why no one should be surprised that our politicians have chosen to focus on Tylenol Cold/Severe Congestion cool-burst caplets instead.

Just because Arizona's crystal meth has been around for years doesn't mean it's stagnant. In fact, in the past five years, two big things have happened.

First, meth-lab busts in the state have dropped 68 percent since 2000 -- meaning, police believe, that far fewer addicts are cooking their own stuff.

Second, in that same period, Arizona has seen a 62 percent increase in people seeking treatment for meth addiction -- meaning more Arizonans than ever are using, and are desperately seeking ways to stop.

Fewer people are cooking meth; more people are abusing meth.

But Arizona lawmakers aren't talking about that.

Instead, they're talking about Oklahoma, and pseudoephedrine.

A common ingredient in over-the-counter cold and flu medicine, pseudoephedrine was designed as a decongestant -- specifically, a decongestant that, unlike its predecessor, ephedrine, couldn't be easily made into crystal meth.

But meth addicts are nothing if not dogged, and many became skilled at extracting pseudoephedrine from Sudafed tablets, combining it with stuff like red phosphorous and iodine, and making meth right in their kitchens.

Such "tabletop" labs became all the rage in heartland states four years ago. Oklahoma, while heavily hit, was far from alone. Places like Missouri and Oregon were also decimated.

The effect was devastating. Labs can be hazardous to firefighters, toxic to kids, and destructive to neighborhoods.

And then there are meth addicts themselves: Many become paranoid, amoral and violent.

Oklahoma law enforcement busted 399 labs in 2000, according to Drug Enforcement Administration records. By 2003, that number was up to a staggering 1,068.

Desperate, state lawmakers seized on a bold plan to stop meth cooks. In April 2004, Oklahoma began restricting sales of any tablet containing pseudoephedrine, which basically meant Sudafed and Claritin-D. Customers had to go to a pharmacy and sign a logbook, and they were strictly limited to nine grams of the stuff per month.

There was no precedent for a law like that. But it worked.

In just two months, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics announced that the number of meth-lab busts per month had dropped 71 percent. They've continued to drop since.

Newspapers around the country reported the stunning development, and in no time, six states passed similar legislation. Congress, too, is considering a bill. (Oregon went even further in August, by limiting pseudoephedrine purchases to customers with a valid prescription.)

Naturally, Arizona was interested.

After all, the state has a serious meth problem.

In 2003, for example, 40 percent of inmates at the Maricopa County Jail tested positive for meth -- a number that's more than doubled since 1999.

Recent studies from Quest Diagnostics, which administers workplace drug tests, show that Arizona has one of the country's highest rates of workers testing positive for meth.

And meth-related deaths are up sharply this year from 2004. (See "Meth Fatalities," Paul Rubin, November 3, 2005.)

Last winter, Representative Tom O'Halleran, a Republican from Sedona, introduced legislation modeled on the Oklahoma plan in the state House of Representatives.

But there was one good reason to resist the plan, made clear in law enforcement statistics.

Arizona didn't have a meth lab problem. It had a meth use problem.

In 2000, according to DEA records, Arizona discovered almost as many tabletop labs as Oklahoma: 384. Respectively, the states had the fifth and sixth highest number of busts in the country.

But while Oklahoma's numbers shot up in 2001, finally peaking in 2003 thanks to its pseudoephedrine laws, Arizona busts started declining in 2001, for entirely different reasons.

They've steadily decreased every year since.

Last year, according to DEA statistics, Arizona reported just 122 meth-lab busts statewide. That's a drop of 68 percent from 2000 -- virtually the same as Oklahoma's more recent success, only without any tough new laws.

Even though Oklahoma's law has been in effect for more than a year, in fact, Arizona continues to see fewer meth-lab busts. And that's despite having some two million more residents than Oklahoma.

There are a few possible explanations for the decrease.

One may be that Arizona has had a pseudoephedrine law for years. It's not as tough as Oklahoma's, and it hasn't earned any headlines, but since 1999, it's been a felony in Arizona to buy or sell more than 24 grams of the stuff in a single purchase. Clerks can also face jail time if they sell pseudoephedrine to anyone they know plans to make meth out of it.

Police, too, worked hard to get the word out about tabletop labs. Phoenix Police Sergeant Don Sherrard, who supervises meth-lab busts, says that a federal grant allowed the department to get the message out: Information about the dangers of meth labs was printed on grocery bags and presented to community groups.

The public responded.

Neighbors of meth cooks, Sherrard says, "started calling us more. And we did put quite a few people in jail."

Perhaps the biggest reason, though, is one that few people outside the drug trade would see as a plus: Addicts aren't cooking meth anymore because they don't have to.

Instead, they can just buy the stuff ready-made, from dealers with a Mexican connection.

Of the half-dozen current and former meth addicts who discussed their use with New Times, only one had ever attempted to manufacture meth, and that was years ago.

"Are you kidding?" asked one, a 20-year-old kid named Joe who's been using since his freshman year in high school. "Nobody even knows how to make it."

The survey, while admittedly unscientific, is backed up by the DEA.

"These Mexican gangs are providing hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of meth," says Tom Marble, clandestine lab coordinator for the DEA's Phoenix division. "A large number of labs have closed. But more people than ever are addicted to meth.

"In reality, the Mexican meth outnumbers the local stuff 100 to 1 -- and it's introduced people to using who'd never dream of making their own."

And it's not just in border states like Arizona.

It's even happening now in Oklahoma.

As part of a series on crystal meth, the Portland Oregonian reported earlier this year that Oklahoma's pseudoephedrine laws had brought about an unexpected consequence. Drug investigators told the newspaper that immediately after the laws went into effect, the Mexican cartels moved in.

And why not? The laws may have decimated the drug supply, but the demand was still huge.

Indeed, despite all the ink that's been spilled on the success of Oklahoma's legislation, it's worth remembering that the oft-cited "71 percent reduction" measures one thing only: the number of meth-lab busts.

There's been no correlation, in Oklahoma, to a drop in meth use.

Property crime hasn't dropped, nor have arrests for use.

Tucson Police Captain David Neri attended a recent conference where he heard from fellow officers in states where Oklahoma-style legislation has been approved.

"They all demonstrated drastic reduction in the tabletop labs," Neri says. "But the sad truth is that the usage stats don't change."

In every case, Mexican gangs moved in to sate the demand.

By earlier this year, it should have been clear to anyone studying the meth issue that Arizona had a problem that Oklahoma-style legislation wasn't going to fix.

Drugs coming from Mexico. People using. People needing treatment.

But no one in Arizona government seemed particularly interested in studying the problem. No one was discussing the issues of use and abuse.

What they were talking about was additional restrictions for pseudoephedrine. Just like Oklahoma.

The chief proponent of adopting the Oklahoma laws here has been Attorney General Terry Goddard. He got the plan endorsed by no fewer than 50 law enforcement agencies, including every county attorney in the state except one. (The holdout? Maricopa County's own Andy Thomas, who did not return calls for comment.)

Goddard even teamed up with a Republican, state Representative O'Halleran, to sell the plan in the House. It helped that O'Halleran is a former narcotics detective.

But though O'Halleran introduced the legislation, Republican leadership assigned it to three different committees, none of whose leaders would give it a hearing, much less a vote.

Meanwhile, the state Senate passed a weaker version. The Senate plan, proposed by Barbara Leff (R-Paradise Valley), was notable for its harsh punishment of meth cooks who worked with children present: They would face sentences as lengthy as child molesters, with a presumption of 20 years in prison and no chance of parole.

But while Leff's bill limited purchases to nine grams of tablet pseudoephedrine, it junked the idea of the logbook. And that nine-gram limit was per purchase, not per month.

To Goddard, who was intent on nothing less than the full Oklahoma plan, that was a total cop-out.

"It's not even halfway there," he says.

When Leff's version was sent to the House for its approval, O'Halleran made his last stand. He tacked on amendments, adding the logbook and the "per month" requirement.

The House easily approved the plan.

But Leff had the last word. The amended version was sent back to her to see if she'd agree to the changes.

She wouldn't.

The new state law would have no logbook and no new per-month limit.

In interviews with New Times, both Goddard and O'Halleran blamed lobbyists for the retailers associations and pharmaceutical companies.

And both groups, admittedly, fought O'Halleran's bill. But Leff says they had nothing to do with her personal feelings about it.

"I think what the attorney general wanted was stupid," she says. "I have done my homework. We shouldn't make laws that sound good when we know they aren't going to work."

But though Leff thought she'd settled the issue, she had a rude awakening ahead, as did the retailer and food marketing associations.

Goddard was so intent on getting tougher pseudoephedrine laws that he couldn't even wait for the next legislative session. He didn't wait until Leff's plan became law, on October 31.

In an interview with New Times, he notes that 60 percent of cases handled by Child Protective Services involve parents using meth. (That's different from making meth, but he doesn't mention that.)

"It is horrifying," Goddard says. "It is every day. And it has to stop. I don't believe we have the luxury of waiting another year."

Beginning in late summer, Goddard made a series of visits to cities around the state and asked them to pass ordinances of their own -- just like the Oklahoma law.

In his presentation to Phoenix leaders this past August, Goddard didn't mention the falling numbers of meth labs. He didn't talk about people who need treatment.

He talked about children found in meth labs, dirty and desperate. (In the past six years, investigators have found 263 children in Maricopa County labs, according to records provided by the Phoenix Police Department.)

"We don't solve the problem by cutting back on pseudoephedrine," Goddard acknowledged. "But we do make a tremendous impact."

In September, the Phoenix City Council approved the legislation. Sedona, Pinetop, Tucson and Scottsdale have since followed suit. Glendale is also considering it.

"If you know you have a solution to the problem," asks Phoenix City Councilman Dave Siebert, "how can you not do it?"

The legislation Goddard pushed for the state would have only restricted tablet-form pseudoephedrine, leaving out the majority of products that use the ingredient, which are liquids and gel caps. That's what Oklahoma did, after all.

But after he pushed the Phoenix City Council to act, the council decided to do more.

Much more.

The idea came from the cops.

Sherrard, the Phoenix police sergeant, advised the city council on its pseudoephedrine ordinance. And, like any good cop, he thought it might be better to be ahead of the curve.

He'd seen meth cooks evolve to get around new laws before -- the blister packs that Sudafed is sold in, in fact, were created because no one thought tweakers would have the patience to pop out thousands of tablets before cooking them. But the clever cooks actually devised a machine to do the popping.

"They're ingenious," Sherrard says.

So he suggested the Phoenix City Council go a little further. With tablets banned, meth cooks, he reasoned, were sure to turn to gel caps and liquid cold medicines with pseudoephedrine. He asked the council to restrict those, too.

"For the first time in law enforcement history, I thought we could be a little proactive instead of playing catch-up," he says. (Iowa, too, was ahead of the curve, passing laws to restrict all pseudoephedrine earlier this year.)

But a study published in the DEA-funded Microgram Journal in January 2005 suggests that Sherrard's idea of "proactive" may be closer to "over-the-top."

Funded by McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, which makes Tylenol, the study reported that, yes, virtually any form of pseudoephedrine -- liquid cold medicines, gel caps, even combo products like Tylenol Cold that are packed with other active ingredients -- could eventually be turned into crystal meth.

But it wouldn't be cheap: By the time Sudafed is converted to meth, about half of the pseudoephedrine is left.

For medicine like Tylenol Cold/Severe Congestion, it's more like 5 percent, according to the Microgram study.

And that's in a controlled lab, using the best practices available. Some law enforcement tests have only been able to get a 25 percent yield from Sudafed; their results from products like Tylenol Cold would likely be even lower.

Police officers in both Tucson and Phoenix admit they're not actually seeing such products in meth labs. Neither does the DEA.

"The source really hasn't changed," Marble says. "They're using blister packs of Sudafed."

But the Phoenix City Council wasn't talking about any of that. At the committee meeting to discuss the proposed ordinance, the idea of applying the restrictions to all pseudoephedrine was taken as a given.

The ordinances passed unanimously.

Beginning this week, as they go into effect, hundreds of products untouched by Oklahoma's law will be affected.

Bashas' grocery stores, for example, sell 156 different products with pseudoephedrine, from Dimetapp to Motrin, says Karen Giroux, director of regulatory agency relations for the Chandler-based chain.

They'll all have to move behind the counter. In every case, customers will have to sign the log.

Giroux says Bashas' has decided to stop carrying a large percentage of the products.

"We just don't have space for all of them," she says.

To politicians who haven't read the studies, who assume all cold medicine is one easy step away from crystal meth, a decision like that counts as good news.

"If we can get it down to just six products with pseudoephedrine, I think that's great," says Phoenix Councilman Siebert. "Instead of a dozen, let's only have a few."

Even if it wasn't just the inconvenience to consumers, though, there may be another unintended consequence of including so many products.

It involves the logbook.

Unlike in Oklahoma, where customers only had to sign when they were buying Sudafed or Claritin-D, customers in Phoenix will have to sign when they purchase things like Tylenol Cold.

Or Robitussin.

Or 150 other products.

It's going to be a fat book.

The ordinance requires the stores to fax the contents of the logbook to the police department each month. But the city council didn't earmark any funds for a database to record them, or even an officer to punch the data into a computer.

At this point, it's unclear how the reams of paper will be processed -- or if they will be processed, at all.

"Hey, the ordinance says they have to send it to the chief of the police," says Sherrard. "That means it's not my problem."

He's joking, of course, but he admits the city doesn't have a plan in place, yet.

"We'd like to come up with a database," he says. "But it's not going to be easy."

Even while Arizona lawmakers work feverishly to stop the state's few remaining meth labs, the state's meth use problem festers.

Unlike the lab issue, it's not easy to get sound bites about the direness of this situation. In some cases, it's impossible even to get a returned phone call.

Instead, on the questions of prevention, key state agencies seem to have dropped the ball.

The one part of O'Halleran's bill that might have had a big impact -- funding a major meth prevention initiative, targeted at kids ages 6 to 16 -- is the one piece that's been virtually forgotten today.

Leff's bill asked the state to identify successful meth prevention programs in other states and try to implement them here. It also called for the state to solicit donations to take on the issue of meth prevention and distribute them to worthy nonprofit companies.

But even though Governor Napolitano signed the bill into law, she doesn't appear to have put anyone on the case. Her spokeswoman knew nothing about any effort to identify such programs or fund them.

The state health department's Office of Tobacco Education and Prevention Program ran a highly successful anti-tobacco campaign in the mid- to late '90s. It achieved a 24 percent drop in the number of kids smoking.

But the health department hasn't attempted a similar campaign on meth use. "That's a law enforcement issue," says spokesman Mike Murphy.

The governor's substance abuse division, too, has hardly been active: It hasn't updated its "events calendar" in more than a year.

Despite repeated requests over a three-week period, Napolitano's substance abuse division director, Rob Evans, declined an interview to discuss what his staff is doing about meth.

It may be because they're just not doing all that much.

Indeed, even though arrest statistics show that meth has been a serious problem in Arizona for at least eight years, the state has yet to even accurately assess the problem. Lawmakers have been content to trot out the same sound bites instead of taking the time to figure out what's really going on.

Take, for example, the oft-repeated claim that Arizona leads the nation in meth use for kids ages 12 to 17.

That's a number that Attorney General Goddard consistently uses in presentations and promotional material, attributing it to U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona. The Arizona Republic has repeated it no less than five times.

The problem? It's totally bogus.

Goddard's spokeswoman, Andrea Esquer, says the source of the claim is a speech that Carmona made in Tucson last March.

But Carmona's planned remarks for the event show what he actually said: Arizona youth are tops when it comes to all stimulant use -- which includes meth, yes, but also cocaine. The Tucson Citizen, which covered the event, quotes Carmona stating just that.

As it turns out, the study Carmona was citing measures stimulant use as a whole, says Leah Young, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. It doesn't have a breakdown for meth.

It's a small example, but indicative of the bigger issue: No one in Arizona has bothered to quantify what the state's problem is.

That makes it hard to tell which plans are working, much less find a big-picture solution.

Take, for instance, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's pilot project for meth and Ecstasy health education.

Phoenix was one of two cities chosen for the project, which uses pediatricians to get information about the dangers of meth to teenagers. (The other city was St. Louis.)

The Partnership found amazing results for Ecstasy, says Arizona program director Shelly Mowrey. "From 2002 to 2004, Ecstasy use went down 56 percent among high school students," she says. "We were just jumping up and down."

The meth initiative didn't cause a similar reaction. The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission Youth Use Survey, an exhaustive study of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, doesn't ask about crystal meth directly -- only the more generic "stimulants."

The 2004 survey shows that stimulant use is actually up from 2002, from 2.2 percent to 3 percent of high school seniors.

But because "stimulant" is the category in question, it's not clear what that means. Are more kids trying meth? Do kids even know that meth is, technically, a stimulant?

"The numbers on meth are kind of sketchy," Mowrey admits.

The Partnership talked to the survey leaders and asked them to break out meth as a topic for questioning in the future, Mowrey says. They've agreed.

But even with that change, 2006 will be the earliest data available. It won't be until 2008 that researchers will be able to tell if use is rising or falling.

By then, Arizona's meth crisis will be in its 10th year.

As of this week, the result of Arizona's fight against meth should be on display at drugstores and grocers across Phoenix.

The shelves that once held hundreds of name-brand decongestants, with endless varieties of day or night, cold and/or flu, children's versus extra strength, are basically down to one option: Sudafed PE.

Sudafed PE is Pfizer's tweaker-proof decongestant. It's pseudoephedrine-free -- the first product to hit the market that proudly proclaims it doesn't contain the key ingredient in crystal meth. (Instead, it uses an ingredient called phenylephrine, which is where the "PE" comes from.)

The new medication has earned Pfizer plenty of good ink. In press interviews, Terry Goddard and other politicians have praised Sudafed PE as an alternative to regular Sudafed.

In their telling, the new option is the perfect example of why ordinances like Phoenix's won't hit consumers too hard.

"It's a new product that has no meth-producing ingredients," Goddard told KAET-TV's Michael Grant on air in April. "Those will be available if this bill passes, no problems for consumers. They have exactly the same diagnostic or medicine effect."

But Sudafed PE is actually the perfect example of why ordinances like Phoenix's will hit consumers.

Because, despite what Goddard says, there's good indication the new stuff doesn't work.

Pfizer tried for years to develop a form of pseudoephedrine that couldn't be made into meth, spokeswoman Erica Johnson says, spending millions of dollars in the process. But that effort proved impossible, and the company abandoned it, as Johnson confirms.

Only then did Pfizer roll out Sudafed PE.

Not because the development process worked.

But because it didn't.

To make PE, Pfizer simply replaced pseudoephedrine with an agent called phenylephrine. Like pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine has been approved for use since 1972, when the Food and Drug Administration first set the rules for over-the-counter medications.

It's been rarely used in oral decongestants since. And there's good reason why.

Leslie Hendeles, a doctor of pharmacy at the University of Florida, says the existing research indicates clearly that it doesn't work.

Hendeles, who compared phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine for Pharmacology in 1993, says the studies are clear: Phenylephrine is absorbed rapidly into the liver. Only 38 percent of the medicine makes it into the bloodstream -- which is key for it to work.

Plus, the FDA only allows a dose of 10 milligrams of phenylephrine in any over-the-counter product. That's one-sixth of what's allowed for pseudoephedrine.

At that level, Hendeles says, phenylephrine is no better than a placebo.

"In my scientific opinion, at the allowable dose, not enough gets into the bloodstream to be effective as a decongestant," he says. "As a topical nasal solution, it's very effective. But as an oral product, it's not going to work."

Pfizer spokeswoman Erica Johnson acknowledges that the company has no scientific studies showing that the new Sudafed PE works. (Anecdotally, she says consumers claim "comparable relief.")

Because the new product is sold over the counter, the FDA confirms, the company won't have to do any studies.

But most customers don't know that. And that gives Sudafed PE an enviable place on the shelves: In Phoenix, it will be one of the only decongestants that customers don't have to request from clerks or sign a logbook to purchase.

Its development may be one reason Pfizer -- far from trying to block pseudoephedrine restrictions, as some politicians have suggested -- actually supported ordinances like Phoenix's.

Pfizer says the company's position on laws like Phoenix's is a matter of fairness.

"Our position has always been, 'If you're going to put pseudoephedrine products behind the counter, you've got to put all pseudoephedrine products behind the counter,'" says spokeswoman Johnson. "All forms. Tablets, gels, and liquids."

It's a strategy that seems to be working. In April, Target became the first company to voluntarily put all products behind the counter. Walgreens followed suit later this spring, spokeswoman Carol Hively says.

Johnson says the company will continue to offer regular Sudafed behind the counter. "Some customers may not find enough relief with Sudafed PE," she says. "They can choose to return to the stuff with pseudoephedrine."

But in some cases, they may not have the choice.

A number of drug companies, including Tylenol's maker, quickly realized the benefits of making a pseudoephedrine-free product. They plan to reformulate their products to take out pseudoephedrine in time for next year's cold season, says McNeil spokeswoman Kathy Fallon.

"They realize customers are not always going to think to ask for this stuff if it's behind the counter," says Jenny Van Amburgh, a doctor of pharmacy at Northeastern University.

"It's definitely an access issue."

The inaugural meeting of the Phoenix City Council meth task force attracted serious media attention.

No fewer than eight television cameras were packed into the small conference room. At least a half-dozen print journalists scribbled into their notebooks.

The membership included all the right players: representatives from the police department, treatment community, and politicians.

Attorney General Goddard spoke about the "crisis in our midst."

He repeated that statistic about how Arizona is number one in meth use for kids ages 12 to 17. "I don't think we've even got an idea of how prevalent it is in our communities," he said.

The task force members were seated around a table, and each one got a chance to speak. Each talked about the ravages of meth. Each expressed hope that the new legislation would help.

And then Jeffrey Taylor spoke. Outreach coordinator for the Phoenix Rescue Mission, he sees the poorest and most desperate meth users every day.

He talked about needing more treatment options in jail. He talked about how Arizona needs more inpatient rehab centers.

And everyone nodded, and smiled, and then went back to pseudoephedrine.

Some members have bounced around ideas since. One of Mayor Phil Gordon's aides found a video online called "Meth Is Death." It was put together by the Knox County Attorney General's Office, in Tennessee; some Phoenix officials have discussed doing a local version here.

The task force meeting, though, was in August.

And the only thing they've done since is hold a press conference, a TV-ready affair in front of a home busted in April as the site of a meth lab.

The sole topic: Phoenix's new pseudoephedrine ordinance, and their next goal -- making it state law.