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You used to find Sudafed on most drugstore shelves. The same is true for Advil Allergy Sinus, Tylenol Cold Severe and Zyrtec-D. Now you have to ask your pharmacist to get you these meds, even sign a piece of paper before you buy them. Why? Here are some answers:

Why the switch?

The determining factor is one ingredient: pseudoephedrine. The medicines that contain it are behind the counter; the ones that don't are in the aisles. Pseudoephedrine is found in both prescription and non-prescription drugs — it's used to relieve nasal or sinus congestion. It also can be used to illegally make methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant. By law, any cold medicine that contains ingredients commonly used to make methamphetamine must be sold behind the counter; the law also limits the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can buy each month.

Do I need a prescription for these cold meds now?

If you didn't before, then you still don't. But you do need to show identification when you request the medicine and sign a logbook. Retailers are required to keep information about anyone who buys the medicine for at least two years.

Do BTC meds work better than the ones still on store shelves?

No. Some drugmakers have voluntarily reformulated certain products to exclude pseudoephedrine. For example, Sudafed PE contains the decongestant phenylephrine instead and is available in the aisle. Says ER physician Travis Stork: "Since both are stimulants that may increase your heart rate and blood pressure, disrupt your sleep or more, it's wise to discuss with your doc or pharmacist the most effective and safest option for you."

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The Doctors

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.