Curbs on Precursor Chemicals

Curbs on Precursor ChemicalsCurbs on Precursor Chemicals

Following the confirmation of confidential reports about the use of ‘pseudoephedrine,’ which is widely used in cough and cold medications, to produce ‘crystal meth’, the  Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has taken steps to remove the substance from all over-the-counter cold medications.

Pseudoephedrine is used in common cold drugs to treat nasal and sinus congestion. Crystal meth is also made with the ingredient pseudoephedrine, found in many cold medicines. The cold medicine tablets are mixed with a solvent and the solution then undergoes various processes to produce an addictive substance known as crystal meth.

“The measure was taken by current FDA chief Rasoul Dinarvand, seven years after repeated warnings by competent authorities on abuse of the active ingredient to produce crystal meth,” the Persian language newspaper ‘Etemad’ reported.

Despite the delayed action, the measure has been effective as crystal meth prices increased three-fold as it became difficult for drug traffickers to extract pseudoephedrine from cold medications.

A gram of crystal meth now costs $20-25 from its earlier rate of $7 in Tehran, and more than $22 in the southern provinces and over $27 in the country’s western provinces.

Experts believe that the main reason for the increase in prices is due to the blocked access of crystal meth producers to a major source of precursor chemicals necessary for the production of the illicit drug.

Tahmineh Baheri, head of Anti-Narcotics Police Research Center told the newspaper that several years ago Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters (IDHQ) and Health Ministry were warned that there should be proper checks and controls over the production of common cold medications. In other words, “cold medications should not be available according to market demand, but based on estimates of people’s annual use of OTCs.”

Laboratory analyses indicated that meth drugs seized during raids had not been made from pure pseudoephedrine, but with impure pseudoephedrine, mixed with other ingredients used in OTC medications; “therefore we realized we should impose more control on access to and supply of OTC pharmaceuticals.”

In early 2013 the Health Ministry announced it had taken measures to remove the substance from cold medicines but “they had not really done anything,” Baheri pointed out.

This year (ends March 19) the FDA announced the substance has been removed from the medicinal formulas of all pharmaceutical companies.  According to the FDA, currently, the substance remains only in two products, including a kind of cough syrup and pseudoephedrine syrup both of which are used for treatment of cough, cold and allergies.

“Their production will be also stopped as soon as we find an alternative,” said Sadollah Parvizi, head of FDA’s narcotics and controlled-substances department.

“However extraction of pseudoephedrine from the syrups is not cost effective for meth producers,” he added.

“If you now buy a drug containing pseudoephedrine from a drugstore, it definitely comes from the manufacturer’s inventory.”

Methamphetamine is often produced using chemicals and other products that are illegally diverted from legitimate sources. Some of the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture meth include pseudoephedrine (contained in over-the-counter cold medicines), anhydrous ammonia (used primarily as an agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant), and red phosphorus (used in matches).