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A New Zealand solution

From Mr M. B. Kerr, MRPharmS

When I was in Auckland in 2003, our suburban pharmacy became aware that sales of pseudoephedrine products were increasing quickly. These products were being sold mostly to customers we did not know, many of whom were of a dubious nature and who often asked to buy more than one pack.

Our sales team was becoming increasingly uncomfortable about this trade, which we suspected was fuelling local home-based laboratories set up for turning pseudoephedrine into methamphetamine.

Following discussion with the police we decided to adopt their drug squad’s policy for community pharmacies. We placed an A4-sized sign with the New Zealand police letterhead on the doors and the sales counter which detailed the new requirements for purchase. From that moment we made it compulsory that every person wanting to purchase any product containing pseudoephedrine was required to produce photo identification, the details of which were recorded on a police form which was faxed to the Auckland Drug Squad every week.

The effect was astounding. Within 24 hours of the signs being displayed, our sales dropped to the normal levels we would have expected. Most requests now came from our local people and our sales team were much happier. Of course this new requirement took a little time to be accepted by our customers but, as many of the public had read in the press of the rise of the new cottage industry popularly named “homebake”, it was not long before they understood and were happy to co-operate. There were a few who refused to provide their photo ID and, in those cases, we refused the sale.

We took a firm no-exceptions policy so that staff would not have to make judgements over who did and who did not have to comply. The usual forms of identification presented were driving licences or credit cards.

There were some who raised the point of their data privacy and their civil rights, but fortunately the legal department at the New Zealand Police had clarified this point and had declared it to be within our rights to collect the data on their behalf. We had a printed statement ready to show such inquirers.

It gave us some satisfaction to know that on several occasions the data we provided contributed to successful prosecutions which resulted in prison sentences. We learnt that some shoppers were going from pharmacy to pharmacy, town to town, purchasing where they could and being paid hundreds of dollars a day to supply a laboratory with the raw ingredient.

The Auckland Drug Squad had also recorded all our employee’s signatures along with their names, so none of us were ever required to appear in court to give evidence.

By about 2004 I think about 75 per cent of New Zealand pharmacies had adopted similar policies. As the retail supply of pseudoephedrine dried up, it became a common motive for pharmacy and wholesaler break-ins so stock-holdings were reduced throughout the supply chain and wholesalers and importers installed secure holding areas.

I do not support the proposal of making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only product in the UK since that would remove a useful product from pharmacy’s arsenal. Unfortunately limiting sales to one pack per customer is unlikely to restrict the purchasing of pseudoephedrine by roving shoppers.

With firm controls, a professional pharmacist approach, along with some good monitoring of sales from both suppliers and community pharmacies, the supply to drug pedlars can be contained.

Murray Kerr
Torquay, Devon

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10003645

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