Suing Cold Medication Manufacturers Because Drug Dealers Make Drugs out of the Medication:

No, it's not some hypothetical offered by critics of lawsuits against gun manufacturers; it's a real case. From Ashley County v. Pfizer, Inc., decided today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit (some paragraph breaks added):

The Defendants are manufacturers and distributors of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications containing either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. None of the Defendants are retailers, nor do they sell the medications directly to the public. The Counties allege that the Defendants marketed and sold their products in Arkansas knowing that the products were being used illegally to manufacture methamphetamine. [Footnote: In their briefs to this court, the Counties allege that the Defendants intentionally targeted methamphetamine cooks by printing "pseudoephedrine" on the outside packaging of their cold medicines. These allegations were not included in the complaint, by which we are constrained in reviewing this dismissal on the pleadings. In any event, the Counties do not dispute that the packaging complied with the federal Food and Drug Administration regulations.]

The Counties allege that the Defendants knew that their products were being used illegally at least as early as 1986 when the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began pushing for controls over the sale of products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. During two different time periods, in 1995-1996 and in 1998-1999, the DEA placed restrictions on the importation of bulk ephedrine and tracked the sales of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine outside of "blister packs." According to the Counties, methamphetamine use and abuse declined dramatically during these time periods, but the Defendants allegedly fought to create loopholes in the regulations to continue reaping large profits in the sale of their products. In time, the Counties say, methamphetamine cooks learned how to exploit the loopholes, and methamphetamine use rose again.

The Counties claim that the Defendants knew of measures they could have voluntarily taken to reduce the availability of their products to methamphetamine cooks but consciously chose not to, fighting regulatory efforts in order to continue reaping large profits. The actions that the Defendants (who are manufacturers and wholesalers) allegedly should have voluntarily taken included directing the retailers to place the products behind the counter of retail stores; requiring the retailers to make retail purchasers sign for products when purchased from the retailer; educating the retailers and their employees about suspicious behavior by persons seeking to purchase the products for illegal use; requiring the retailers to lock the products in display cases; and requiring the retailers to limit the amount of product that could be purchased at retail by an individual during a specified period of time. These measures were eventually included in DEA regulations issued in 2005. The Counties also alleged that two of the Defendants, Warner Lambert and Pfizer, developed effective alternative cold medications that did not contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine and that could not be used to produce methamphetamine, but that neither of them brought the alternative products to market.

The Counties assert that the Defendants knew they were selling far more than the legitimate market for their products consumed as evidenced by the fact that the revenues of one of the Defendants, Perrigo, declined rapidly from $182 million to $30 million once regulations were passed in 2005 limiting access to the Defendants' products. The Counties also allege that the DEA sent letters to some of the Defendants warning them that their products were being used to make methamphetamine and that an executive from Pfizer admitted that the pharmaceutical industry was responsible for a portion of the methamphetamine problem in the United States. The Counties do not allege, however, that any of the Defendants violated any federal or state regulation governing the manufacture, distribution, packaging, or sale of their products. Nor do the Counties dispute that the sale of products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine is heavily regulated by both state and federal agencies.