In the past several weeks, CVS pharmacies across New England have implemented new policies that require customers to be over the age of 18 and show ID when purchasing nail polish remover as a means to limit the manufacturing of methamphetamine. While there are federal and state laws that enforce age and purchasing limits for certain cold or allergy medicines (ones that contain the critical pseudoephedrine ingredient), there are no such rules with regard to nail polish remover.
While I commend CVS’s interest in bettering their local communities through curbing the activities of Walter White wannabes, it is doing so ineffectively and with gross overreach by imposing on a majority of people who are doing nothing wrong.
For example, a 2012 study by Cascade Policy Group shows that in Oregon, no decline in meth use was seen as a result of a 2006 policy mandating that cold and allergy medicines could only be purchased with a prescription. This study is incidentally reflective of a national trend that sees an overall decline in meth use and meth lab seizures but not in the availability of the drug itself.
What if CVS decides to go further and enforce a rule requiring an age and purchasing limit on all household items? Would that fix the issue? Ammonia and bleach are common household items used to clean dirty bathtubs and to do laundry, but mixed together in the right fashion they can produce an explosion or a deadly gas. Ammonia and chlorine are common elements in countless of other products, too. Should they be intensely regulated just like cough medicine and nail polish remover because of their pseudoephedrine and acetone contents?
Ultimately, despite these rules that restrict accessibility to typically harmless products, enterprising criminals will always find new ways to create and sell their merchandise. They will always find ways to hack the system and to procure new sources.
While these policies are seemingly well-intentioned, they are attacking the issue from the wrong side of the spectrum. The supply side of methamphetamine through CVS and other similar pharmacies is quite minimal in comparison to the vast other resources drug users have, like the mega labs in Mexico. Not only are innocent people disproportionately affected in cost and encumbrance, tracking them is unethical, too.
Illicit drug activity is undoubtedly an important issue that transcends throughout communities, the nation and the world, but solving it through the punishment of badly manicured 13 year olds and allergy-ridden minors is not the way to go.