Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Put your hands where I can see them, Mucus Boy 

For the second time in about a month, on Sunday night I felt my head swelling up and a nasty need for a decongestant. I walked to my medicine cabinet -- which is not a cosmetics cabinet, like the one Mrs. S keeps upstairs -- and dug around for some Wal-Phed PE. Pop one. Wait. Nothing.

I should have known better, as this is what happened last time too. The box says "Pseudoephedrine Free." As Jeffery Tucker points out this morning, you may as well have swallowed Pez than PE. And why? Because somebody somewhere might use pseudoephedrine to make meth. But this isn't just a rant on government deciding meth prevention for a few is more important than cold relief for many. Tucker finds a more sinister possibility:
It seems that most all pseudoephedrine is manufactured in China and India, and very cheaply, much more cheaply than it can be made in the United States or Europe. What that means is that these companies don't have lobbyists in Washington who can make an effective case for their product.

Contrast this was phenylephrine, the world's largest manufacturer of which is located in Germany. The company is called Boehringer-Ingelheim, according to MSNBC. It developed the drug in 1949 for use in eyedrops. In the last two years, virtually every manufacturer of cold medicine has changed its formula to include the Boehringer drug. Some continue to make the old formula available but only with special access.

Is it possible that the move against wonderful pseudoephedrine and in favor of useless phenylephrine was really a form of protectionism in disguise? That it was really about rewarding a well-connected company at the expense of companies without connections?

If that sounds cynical, take a look at this. It seems that our friends at Boehringer Ingelheim are rather interested in American politics, with 73% of its donations going to Republican candidates for federal office. You can see here that Boehringer even has a PAC located in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Someone with more time than I have ought to check to see how the people it supported for Congress voted on the act that resulted in a massive shift toward their product, and has nearly kept its competitive product off the market.
Now that isn't a whole lot of money. But Tucker argues that lobbying by BI went up dramatically at about the same time the pseudoephedrine ban -- also known as the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 -- was placed as a rider in the Patriot Act reauthorization. Coincidence?

But we're going in the wrong direction. In Oregon, they'll now require you to get a prescription for pseudoephedrine. Meanwhile, a new company is making a name for itself and raising capital to sell software to track down criminals buying too much pseudoephedrine. How long before one must comply with a post-nasal drip test at the pharmacy counter?

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