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Meth bill restricting cold pills advances

WASHINGTON -- Sales of cold medicines used to make methamphetamine would be restricted under a bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday after lawmakers forged a compromise protecting state prerogatives.

The legislation would require stores to sell Sudafed, Nyquil, and other medicines containing pseudoephedrine only from behind the pharmacy counter. In makeshift labs across the country, the ingredient has been extracted and used to cook meth.

Consumers would have to show photo identification and sign a log, and would be limited to 7 1/2 grams -- or about 250 30-milligram pills -- in a 30-day period. Computer tracking would prevent customers from exceeding the limit at other stores, according to the bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Jim Talent, Republican of Missouri.

Authorities said yesterday that Walgreen Co. agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle claims that it broke state and federal laws by failing to monitor sales of over-the-counter cold medicine that can be used to make methamphetamine. The company also agreed to spend $1 million to monitor purchases of the medicine. It did not admit to any wrongdoing.

The measure had stalled in committee for several weeks over concerns that it could stop states from enacting their own rules on cold medicine sales. It was modeled after an Oklahoma law that took effect last year, and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, protested that it could interfere with his state's rules.

The measure was approved by voice vote after lawmakers accepted an amendment that would allow states to adopt and enforce their own rules. Another amendment, by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, would delay the implementation date until Jan. 1, 2007, for products containing pseudoephedrine in combination with other ingredients. For products in which pseudoephedrine is the only active ingredient, the restrictions would take effect 90 days after enactment.

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