Many pharmacies – about 30,000 of them in the past two years – have turned to a “meth-resistant” form of pseudoephedrine that cannot be used to make crystal meth.

Pseudoephedrine, an active ingredient in a number of over-the-counter cold medication formulations, is both an effective cold remedy and a dangerous substance. While it is effective in treating colds, the chemical is also commonly utilized by drug manufacturers to make crystal meth. With the hope of eradicating this use of the substance, some pharmacies – about 30,000 of them in the past two years – have turned instead to a “meth-resistant” form of pseudoephedrine that cannot be used to make crystal meth.

In the communities where this has happened, there have been fewer meth labs as a result. Though many states are weighing the option of making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug, some say that this new version of the substance allows those with a cold the ability to buy the medication they need without a doctor’s visit but also puts a stop to use of the drug for illicit purposes.


There are few downsides to requiring pseudoephedrine users to obtain a prescription for the drug other than the lack of convenience. As it stands, codeine-based cough syrups and other strong medications used to treat colds require a prescription. While going to the doctor may be the last thing you want to do when you’re sick, it’s already something that is necessary if you need certain medications.

On the other hand, paying the co-pay to see a doctor may be an unnecessary expense, and filling a prescription may be more expensive than buying the medication over the counter. Some say this is a waste of time and resources that punishes those who use the drug as it was intended to be used, but many state officials would rather err on the side of caution than risk putting a dangerous substance into the wrong hands.

Demand for Pseudoephedrine

More than 100,000 more Americans used crystal meth in 2013 than in 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). It’s not only a large problem in rural and urban communities across the country, but it’s a problem that is growing nearly everywhere.

Meth labs, or locations dedicated to making crystal meth, dot the country. About a decade ago, there were thousands of them, often tucked away in rural locations, abandoned buildings, or apartments rented specifically for the purpose – all in need of large amounts of pseudoephedrine to make meth. But given the fumes and the often late night comings and goings of the drug makers who lived there, meth labs were relatively easy for police to find and take down. Penalties are steep for getting caught running a meth lab, and as the number of busts increased, fewer people were willing to take the risk.

As a result, dealers looked for international sources for the crystal meth that addicted users wanted, and the demand for pseudoephedrine for the purpose of making meth locally dropped. Mexico was ready to step in and fill the void, and large shipments of the drug are still smuggled across the border to feed demand today. However, in recent years, a new and quicker method of making meth that does not require a lab became more popular. Portable and easy to hide, the demand for pseudoephedrine for the purposes of making meth began to rise, causing law enforcement to look for new ways to curb the problem.

The Meth Problem

A highly addictive substance, few people dabble in crystal meth use. Many become dependent upon the drug in a relatively short amount of time, whether their initial interest in the substance was for recreational use, weight loss, or a decreased need to sleep. The result is almost immediately devastating. Effects of chronic crystal meth abuse include:

  • Insomnia and sleep deprivation
  • Extreme, dangerous weight loss and malnutrition
  • Serious dental problems often called “meth mouth”
  • Skin sores
  • Arrhythmia
  • Higher blood pressure and temperature
  • Increased heart rate and respiration

Additionally, if involved in the making of meth, the exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes as well as the potential for lethal explosions are constant. For those who have children, harm to those children and/or loss of custody to the foster system are not uncommon.

Identifying Crystal Meth Abuse

The physical effects of regular meth abuse are often so extreme that even casual observers can identify the issue. Poor nutrition is evidenced in the emaciated appearance of the individual in addition to damaged hair, skin, and nails. Personality changes are an almost immediate indication as well: the person may have extreme mood swings from surly and irritable to chatty and friendly. Additionally, when the user is without the drug, depression may be an issue. Unstable and erratic in their behavior, someone on crystal meth may even become aggressive in certain circumstances.

Taking Action

Unfortunately, like most drug users, those who are victims of crystal meth are rarely forthcoming about their need for treatment. Fear of change, fear of living without the drug, and other issues may stop them from seeing rehab as a positive choice. Though this can be difficult for the people who love them, it is important not to give up. An intervention may be a positive way to help the addicted person not only recognize that they need treatment but also accept an immediate offer of rehab.

An intervention is:

  • A nonjudgmental, loving act
  • Designed to remind the addicted person that crystal meth dependence is a medical problem
  • A way to emphasize the value of medical and psychotherapeutic treatment
  • One of the most effective methods to help someone who is unwilling to go to rehab understand that immediate treatment is needed

Choosing Treatment, Choosing Health

The experience of undeniable and negative consequences due to drug use is the biggest indicator that treatment is needed. If your loved one has tried to stop using crystal meth but been unsuccessful, then immediate drug treatment is necessary. Connecting your loved one to a treatment program can help them to begin the healing process immediately – and help you to begin rebuilding your life as well. Waiting only invites more trouble caused by drug abuse. Taking action puts the power back in your hands and the hands of your loved one.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.