Pseudo Relief

Buying cold medicine? Don’t act so suspicious!


Let’s say you have a rotten, two-week-long cold. In the past, you’d shuffle, febrile, to a drugstore, clutch the shopping basket and toss in some cold medicine. You’d choose a daytime formula for work and a nighttime one that packed a 12-hour wallop.

But since October, when Hawai‘i restricted the sale of pseudoephedrine—to keep people from buying it in bulk for the manufacture of crystal meth—relief has been harder to come by. You have two choices: Pick up an alternate type of cold medicine, which is sans pseudoephedrine, and which, according to recent studies, may not work any better than a placebo. Or, if you prefer medicine, you play a little game along the lines of “Invade My Privacy!” Just pull a small coupon with a photo of what you want, stand in line at the pharmacy counter, present your ID, then fill out a form with your name and address. (My gun-owning friend points out that you’re now almost halfway through the hoops required to buy a weapon.)

I could stand all this, maybe, if I wasn’t also limited to two measly boxes. I could even play along if I was limited to two boxes a month from April to September. But, come flu season, two boxes may not cut it, particularly if you have the proverbial snot-nosed kids. When you have reached your maximum two boxes, you have to drive to another Longs (secure system!), send your spouse as Sudafed agent (convenient!), or wear a fake nose/mustache combo (just plain fun!).

I resent the implication that, at any second, law-abiding shoppers might whip out a flask and start cooking a new batch of meth. I resent penalizing the majority of people—people who have colds, the most common health complaint out there—because of the bad behavior of a small group.

photo: Gettyimages

At press time, there had been 379 meth-related arrests in 2006, compared to 719 the prior year. That’s fantastic, but it’s not a result of Hawai‘i’s new law. In fact, according to police Maj. Kevin Lima, commander of the Honolulu Police Department’s narcotics and vice division, the police noticed a decrease in the supply and purity of ice more than a year ago.

“We didn’t get all excited and say we won the war or anything, and I was really reluctant to get all excited, because [the numbers] could have gone back up. But they haven’t gone back up.” Lima also notes Hawai‘i’s ice is mostly smuggled in, not made here. “It’s cheaper to buy it from somewhere else than to make it yourself. They go to L.A., a source city, and ship it back or body-carry it. ... If you are going to manufacture it to make a profit, you have to make a lot.”

I get uneasy when we start chipping away at liberties, regardless of how noble the intention. The instinct to ban certain ingredients is understandable, but we have to hit the reasons people abuse drugs: poverty, boredom, poor role models, self-medicating a mental or physical illness.

Take a look at the HPD’s biggest drug-prevention program, which does not involve luggage-sniffing beagles. According to Lima, it’s the Police Activities League, which serves 15,000 kids in Hawai‘i. “We don’t have to talk about drugs. It’s about the kids having role models, keeping them busy, keeping them out of the alleys.” This approach I like: You’re not taking away my liberties, and you’re giving someone else more liberties—a wider future to choose from.

Thirty-eight Americans die every day due to falls, but no one is banning the sale of throw rugs. And as I write this, a Star-Bulletin headline notes that Hawai‘i is the second-deadliest state when it comes to alcohol-related traffic fatalities. When does the wine registration start? Longs shoppers may still overdose on Tylenol PM and sniff the rubber cement in aisle 2C. No identification card required.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2019
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