WASHINGTON – The Senate unanimously approved a far-reaching bill Friday that would impose tight limits on the sale of cold remedies containing a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine.

The bill – opposed by some retailers and drug makers – passed as an amendment to a spending bill that funds federal science, justice, and other programs. The House passed a different version of that bill earlier this year, without the meth provisions.

The proposal would limit access to Sudafed and other cold pills that contain pseudoephedrine, a primary ingredient in meth, by requiring retailers to put such products behind a pharmacy counter. Consumers would have to sign a log and show an ID to buy them, and sales information would be put into a database to help police track large purchases.

“The federal government needs to get aggressively and comprehensively into the fight against meth and this bill is a major step in that direction,” said Sen. Jim Talent, R- Mo., a primary author of the bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

In addition to the pharmacy restriction, under the Talent-Feinstein bill, consumers would only be able to buy 7.5 grams of pseudoephedrine products per month. The quantity of pseudoephedrine varies in different medications; for example, the limit would amount to two boxes per month of full-strength Sudafed, with 30 pills in each box.

States could enact tougher, but not weaker, measures under the legislation.

Talent and Feinstein acknowledged that the bill has to clear several hurdles, including winning approval from the Bush administration. Last month, the White House proposed looser restrictions that Talent said were inadequate.

The Senate is expected to vote on the underlying spending bill next week. The measure will then go to a House-Senate conference committee where negotiators will work out the differences between the competing measures.

The Senate is poised to act on another amendment Monday that would increase the funding for a grant program that helps law enforcement officials in Missouri and Illinois battle meth use and production. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., joined a bipartisan group in legislation seeking to save the program, which has seen slated for elimination by the Bush administration.

(c) 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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