Health and police officials are urging the restriction of the sale of the country's most popular cold medications because they contain a key ingredient used to make crystal methamphetamine, a potentially lethal street drug.
They intend to persuade a new crystal meth task force, soon to be announced by the provincial government, of the necessity to restrict the sale of pseudoephedrine, a chemical found in many cold and allergy medications such as Sudafed, Actifed and Contac, which crystal meth cooks use to make the highly addictive drug.
"The bottom line is that without pseudoephedrine you cannot make crystal meth," said Perth County medical officer of health Dr. Rosana Pellizzari. "Restricting access to it will act as a deterrent to the production of crystal meth."
The goal of the new committee, an offshoot of the government's Green Tide Action Group on marijuana grow operations, is to recommend a strategy for the province to deal with the growing problem of crystal meth use and production.
The problem is already deeply entrenched in the western provinces, but officials here know the drug is sweeping eastward and want to tackle it in its early stages, so they don't fall behind the rest of North America in stopping it.
"They've had a horrible experience with it out west and the fear is that it's going to become the case in Ontario," said David Bedard of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, who will co-chair the group.
Many American states have restricted access to the everyday medications by limiting their sale or placing them behind the pharmacist's counter.
In June the health ministers of Canada's western provinces pledged to come up with plans to do the same by October. Part of the urgency stemmed from their counterparts in the U.S., who feared their own strict regulations would lead to smuggling from Canada. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told the health ministers, "Everybody has to join in and be willing to accept some minor inconvenience to put up some major road blocks."
No such plan is in the works for Ontario.
But Perth-Middlesex MPP John Wilkonson said it probably should be. "If someone wants to buy three cases of Sudafed, that's not normal."
The vast rural landscape of Perth County, around Stratford, has made it the crystal meth capital of Ontario. It's now the biggest drug problem there, and police have reported thieves stealing cold medications right out of the box.
Crystal meth is gaining in popularity because the high is long-lasting and intense, and it is so cheap. A user can stay high for 12 hours for as little as $5.
But side effects, including heart problems, hallucinations and violence, can be devastating.