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Indiana Retailers Frustrated by New Anti-Meth Measures

INDIANAPOLIS -- The state of Indiana is producing millions of posters, cards, shopping bag inserts and other materials to educate state residents about a law that took effect Friday restricting their purchases of some cold and allergy medicines to combat the spread of methamphetamine use, according to The Courier-Journal.

Customers can purchase only about 100 tablets of cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a decongestant found in hundreds of products. Customers must sign a log and show an ID. Minors will not be allowed to purchase the medicines.

Stores without pharmacies must keep the medicines in a locked case or behind a retail counter. Pharmacies can keep the medicines on their shelves, if the area is under video surveillance and the pharmacy counter is open, while convenience stores can sell packs of no more than four pills.

The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute began sending out packets of the materials -- created by an outside firm -- to 5,000 grocery stores, pharmacies, discount retailers and convenience stores yesterday.

"You can imagine how many questions pharmacists will get every day about this change," said Heather Bolejack, executive director of the agency. "These materials will answer those frequently asked questions."

The packets also include copies of a log developed by the Indiana State Police that retailers must use to track every purchase of Sudafed, Tylenol Cold and Flu or other products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Those are key ingredients in methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug often produced in small rural labs.

The log has been a source of some frustration among retailers, said Joe Lackey, director of the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association.

Stores had hoped to have it in hand before now so they could train employees to use it. But state police didn't finish the document until last week.

"It's unfortunate," Nikki Kincaid, the institute's deputy director, acknowledged this week. "But we moved just as quickly as we could."

Gov. Mitch Daniels unveiled the materials at a press conference yesterday in Fort Wayne, where he acknowledged that the restrictions will cause a minor inconvenience to people who need these cold remedies and the retailers who sell them.

But he said in a letter to retailers that the restrictions are important and asked for "support and diligence in observing this law as we work together to address the meth epidemic in our state."

The restrictions -- part of more comprehensive legislation aimed at curbing meth abuse -- became law in May.

That gave state officials only a short time to produce the tracking log, Kincaid said. Its creation required cooperation among several agencies and approval by the attorney general's and governor's offices, she said.

But Lackey is also concerned with the log's content. State police are requiring that retailers record more information than called for by the law, including the amount of pseudoephedrine in the medicines a customer is buying. Also, customers will need to sign the log, rather than simply record their name, under the state police protocol.

Lackey said the additional requirements add to the concern that customers will be forced to wait in lines to buy commonly used, over-the-counter medications. The problem might not be evident immediately, but could become worse in the winter during the cold and flu season, he said.

But Bolejack said the final log is a compromise that incorporates concerns and suggestions from representatives of retailers, prosecutors, police and state officials.

"It represents the best attempts to balance everybody's interests," she said.

Lackey said this week that few customers know the new law is at hand. Still, he said, many stores are unlikely to use the signs, fliers and cards the state is producing to help consumers understand the changes.

"We're constantly being come at by various agencies to put up signs about applying for food stamps, about alcoholic beverages, that gambling can be a problem," Lackey said. "There's not enough room for this stuff."

But Melissa Martin, president of Issues and Advocates, the Indianapolis company hired to do the creative work, said she has been working hard with a coalition of business leaders and state officials to produce materials that are specific to this change and are useful and educational.

Cards have been designed to sit on shelves where cold products used to be displayed.

"They inform the public that the medicines are still available," she said, by directing customers to a pharmacy or retail council.

Stores also will get an initial shipment of free fliers they can stuff into customers' bags to explain the change, she said.

"We're looking for a quick blitz of information," Martin said.

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