A bill that would limit access to common cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient that can be used to make the highly addictive drug methamphetamine, has been unanimously approved by the Senate judiciary committee.
The Combat Meth Bill has been forwarded to the full Senate by the committee, and a similar bill in the House of Representatives has been referred to a subcommittee for consideration.
In speaking to Congress, Bush administration officials and law enforcement officers from around the country said methamphetamine addiction, once confined to western and mainly rural regions of the United States, has spread to the entire nation and now also is affecting urban and suburban areas.
According to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, methamphetamine had surpassed marijuana as the greatest danger to the nation's children.
The legislation was sponsored by California democrat senator Diane Feinstein, and will mean cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, NyQuil, and Tylenol Cold, will be behind pharmacy counters and could limit how much one person can buy to 7.5 grams a month.
The bill is modeled on an Oklahoma law, which has been copied by at least a dozen other states, and has resulted in a large drop in the number of meth labs seized by authorities.
Feinstein says the approval signaled a good day in the fight against methamphetamines and brings closer the possibility of a national meth bill that would put thousands of meth labs out of business.
She hopes the senate will pass the act in September.
Feinstein said the legislation will encourage the manufacture of cold medicines without pseudoephedrine, which is already being done by drug manufacturer Pfizer in Europe.
Meth, as it is commonly known, can be made using common household and agricultural chemicals and cold medicines, following recipes easily available on the Internet.
The drug is highly addictive, and its manufacture creates toxic waste products that damage the environment and are expensive to clean up.
The majority of the meth sold in the United States is manufactured in "superlabs" in California and Mexico, but a significant amount is made in small labs in peoples' bathtubs, or in abandoned buildings or even in hotel rooms.
According to a survey of law enforcement organizations conducted by the National Association of Counties, 58 percent of county law enforcement agencies now see meth as their largest drug problem.