No Relief

By Jim McVeagh 08/10/2009

So John Key is going to make pseudoephedrine only available on doctor’s prescription. And he’s not stopping there, either:

Mr Key has asked for Medsafe to consider a total ban on pseudoephedrine, which is used to make the illegal drug “P”, pure methamphetamine.

Unfortunately Mr. Key is being poorly advised on this matter by his science advisor, Peter Gluckman – who has no medical qualifications, BTW

Sir Peter said pseudoephedrine had been used as a nasal decongestant since the 1940s.

Phenylephrine could not be used as a precursor for P and was a “generally effective alternative”, he said.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that phenylephrine will work for at least 80 per cent of people but not for others.”

Once again, I link to a real scientific study on phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine so the Sir Peter can actually read something useful on the subject. There are dozens of others, but this one is freely available to be read in full. All the scientific evidence (as opposed to the anecdotal ones) shows that phenylephrine is essentially useless as a nasal decongestant. If you want relief from your cold, you are going to have to use pseudoephedrine. All that making this a prescription item will do is make the treatment of a cold more expensive for people. It will also move the monitoring of drug seekers from the pharmacy to the GP, who is even less likely to spot the serial script seeker. “Shoppers” for pseudoephedrine will just move from doctor to doctor, gathering scripts.

The Netherlands, Mexico and the American state of Oregon have eliminated over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines without “unacceptable patient inconvenience”, Sir Peter said.

Sadly, none of these places have reported any inroads into their “P” problem. All of them have a much smaller “P” problem than ours. It is also perfectly possible that their methamphetamine production relied heavily on over-the-counter sales, unlike New Zealand, where the bulk of “P” is made from pseudoephedrine imported directly from China. All-in-all, the argument for doing this is very thin and not particularly related to the evidence.


The Dom Post runs a couple of doctor’s opinions today – including mine.