DRUG INDUSTRY POLITICS AT THE D.E.A.
Attorney Jonathan Emord
Author of "The Rise of Tyranny"
July 19, 2010
Ephedrine-containing cough and cold remedies can be converted (cooked) into illicit methamphetamine. For over a decade, Congress has repeatedly taken the Drug Enforcement Administration to task for not doing enough to stem the flow of methamphetamine. As with all things in Washington, the fight to stem the flow has been accompanied by a heavy dose of government corruption.
In July of 2004, then DEA Deputy Administrator (now DEA Administrator) Michele Leonhart announced that DEA would remove all ephedrine from the market to dry up domestic sources of meth. While DEA hoped this move would play well on Capitol Hill, it was well known that it would do nothing to affect in any material way the meth trade. The overwhelming majority of meth comes not from home cooks who reduce it from cough and cold remedies but from drug dealers who obtain meth in finished form principally from south of the border. Few addicts spend the time to cook cough and cold remedies into ephedrine because the finished product largely from Mexico is sold on the street for less. More is obtainable on the street. A street buy involves less exposure to arrest and risk than going from store to store buying ephedrine containing cough and cold remedies, cooking them in an explosive brew, and obtaining comparatively smaller and less pure quantities than can be had on the street. Nevertheless, Leonhart hoped her move to dramatically reduce the availability of ephedrine containing cough and cold remedies would be welcomed by members of Congress who were pressing her for some tangible action to stop the horrific cycle of abuse leading to self destruction then raging throughout the United States.
Later in 2004, Leonhart met with lobbyists for Pfizer and Wyeth, makers of Sudafed and Primatene respectively (over-the-counter drugs containing ephedrine). Following her meeting, DEA strategy changed. No longer did DEA aim to remove all ephedrine from the market. It now aimed to remove ephedrine sold by manufacturers other than Pfizer and Wyeth and distributors of brands competing with Pfizer and Wyeth.
Indeed, with the help of an expert later found incompetent to opine on the matter, DEA made the absurd and implausible argument that sources of distribution of cough and cold remedies in competition with pharmacies served by Pfizer and Wyeth posed an unacceptable risk of diversion to the methamphetamine trade. A biased campaign commenced to revoke the registrations of numerous independent distributors regardless of whether any proof could be marshaled to establish actual diversion from those distributors, all on the bogus theory that any sale of cough and cold remedies by allegedly “non-traditional” sources of cough and cold remedies above a fixed arbitrary figure (like $14) was positive proof of diversion.
Over 55 DEA registrations were revoked in this campaign, thereby forcing out of business hundreds of retail establishments whose cough and cold remedies competed with the Pfizer and Wyeth brands. The effect was to bolster the market share of Pfizer and Wyeth every time DEA agents were deployed to stop competing sales. Millions of tax dollars went into this one-sided campaign. The DEA hearings were akin to Kangaroo Courts with the government introducing all manner of prejudicial circumstantial evidence, intimating connections with the illicit methamphetamine trade even when no direct evidence existed.
You might speculate that perhaps DEA was driven not to go after pharmacies served by Pfizer and Wyeth because diversion from those entities was non-existent, but you would be in error. Retail sellers of Sudafed and Primatene have been convicted of diversion numerous times in state prosecutions, yet the DEA Administrator assiduously avoids revoking registrations held by Sudafed and Primatene distributors. While she has given a pass to Sudafed and Primatene distributors, she prosecutes to registration revocation those companies that compete with Pfizer and Wyeth in the cough and cold remedy market.
Most of the independent brands are sold from convenience stores, aptly named because they are near highways. Medical need for ephedrine containing cough and cold remedies is acute for those with asthma and bronchitis. Evidence reveals that reliance on personal inhalers fails to satisfy medical need because only a small fraction of those trained to use inhalers use them properly. When a life threatening asthma attack comes on, many people look to ephedrine remedies to open their constricted bronchi and lungs.
By systematically moving to make ephedrine containing remedies harder and harder to obtain except in the traditional pharmacies served by Pfizer and Wyeth, DEA has increased the risk that those with asthma, bronchitis, and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases will be traveling, suffer an acute attack, and not have ready (near highway) access to relief at a convenience store. Driving to the interior of towns in search of a pharmacy can expend precious time and result in a serious medical emergency or death.
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In the end, as this misguided DEA campaign continues, thousands of honest, law-abiding citizens have been forced out of work for companies that previously competed with Wyeth and Pfizer in this market; those with medical need are being put at greater risk; and the DEA is not putting a single dent in meth addicts’ access to methamphetamine. All the while, the U.S. taxpayer foots the bill for an anticompetitive campaign of prosecution and persecution that leads to greater unemployment.
© 2010 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved