Now several states have legislation pending that would require a prescription to buy any of these former over-the-counter medications.
Mississippi is the latest state to propose prescriptions for pseudoephedrine-containing medications after the number of arrests for meth outnumbered those for crack and power cocaine for the first time last year.
Middle of the Storm
Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, is a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who has seen a gradual increase in methamphetamine abuse over the past 30 years.
"I've been in the middle of this storm for three decades," he told reporters. "It's tragic."
Fisher is lobbying for the prescription law in Mississippi while similar laws have been introduced in Georgia, Missouri and Washington. Oregon was the first state to adopt such a law, in 2006. In the year after the law went into effect, the number of meth labs busted in Oregon dropped from 473 to 20.
Big Pharm Opposes Law
Naturally, the pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes laws requiring prescriptions for cold medications. The industry has offered to create a real-time electronic system that would let law enforcement track all sales of pseudoephedrine.
The pharmaceutical industry's opposition is so strong, it has offered to purchase the electronic-tracking systems for states that have a serious meth lab problem.
The electronic tracking systems are already being used in Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma. The systems are being implemented in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri.
Doesn't Stop 'Smurfing'
Proponents of the prescription laws say that the electronic tracking system, that limits how much cold medicine a single buyer can purchase, does not stop meth production, because it can be circumvented by the practice of "smurfing."
"A group will pile into a car and go store-to-store and purchase enough to make a batch of meth," Fisher said. "A prescription law would stop that."
Miss. to Mull Making Cold Meds Prescription-Only More About Meth: