I’m on holiday in Straya at the moment so you’re enjoying a shorter newsletter than normal.
You’re in luck, though, because this newsletter contains my number one life pro tip: one weird trick that doctors may or may not hate, an incredible life hack that can turn grey skies blue and smash a head-cold into the Sun.
It is, of course, pseudoephedrine. And guess where it’s still legal?
I’m still a bit crook, because apparently spending winter with a toddler who attends preschool is just an unceasing series of practically Biblical plagues. So after developing a monster head cold — either the tail end of my previous malaise or the pointy end of something else — I waltzed Matilda into a chemist to see if they could supply a cold medicine with actual active ingredients.
Turns out, after giving them enough personal details to keep an ID thief happy for years, they could. On my packet of generic cold medicine, the pseudoephedrine is advertised as a “decongestant.” This is technically correct, in much the same way that heroin is an effective cough medicine, but it’s not the point. The point is that pseudo makes you feel amazing. When it comes to self-improvement, I know of nothing that more instantly improves one’s self. When you’re laid low with a cold getting some pseudo in you is like biting into a radioactive spider. You come out swinging.
But being able to regain a semblance of functionality while ill has a dark side. And, unlike Australia, New Zealand was wise enough to see it.
It’s yet another timely reminder that, apart from small matters like the weather, the economy, the price of living, public transport, wildlife variety, beaches, outdoor recreation in general, sporting prowess, public health care, and probably a few other things, New Zealand is far superior to Australia. In New Zealand, we can see the wool for the trees. Long ago, we realised that over-the-counter pseudoephedrine was fuelling a methamphetamine epidemic. Sure, most actual meth ingredients were being imported through black market channels by criminal gangs, rather than being bought over the counter by desperate mules, and there are plenty of ways to make meth that don’t involve pseudoephedrine at all, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that at some stage, over-the-counter pseudoephedrine might have been used to make meth.
Luckily, unlike in the Lucky Country, our leaders were willing to take a stand. At the time, New Zealand was governed by a wise and powerful political party called John Key, and it was about to make its most momentous political decision: banning cold medicine. With a single stroke, John Key would end the meth epidemic in New Zealand, and all it would cost was permanently immiserating the millions of Kiwis who suffer from colds. This was back in 2009: here’s how the media reported the decision at the time.
Prime Minister John Key is convinced all Kiwis stand to gain from his decision to designate pseudoephedrine a Class B2 drug.
He wants hundreds of thousands of law abiding citizens to do the decent thing - forgo using their perfectly legal and effective cold medication and snuffle in silence in the fight against "P" ("pure" methamphetamine).
"I think New Zealanders are fair-minded enough to see that," Key said in an opinion piece in the Herald outlining his "war on P" initiatives.
And look how well that turned out! Crime is at record lows. Methamphetamine is only used for legitimate purposes, like keeping Spitfire pilots awake. No-one ram-raids anyone for anything. After banning a widely-used, seldom-abused, and incredibly effective cold medication for the greater good, New Zealand is, at long last, a P-free utopia.
Or at least I assume it is. Let’s see what the news has to say. I’ll just do a quick Google and…
Well. That was in 2018, only nine years after banning pseudoephedrine! Perhaps the ban took a while to bed in. Today, in 2023, things must surely be better.
What’s this? Could the evidence show that blanket drug prohibition simply doesn’t work? Does this suggest that we banned the single most easy, effective and accessible way to improve your miserable cold-addled life for no fucking good reason?
With that epiphany under our belts, let’s take a step back. In the recent past, pseudoephedrine may as well have been manufactured and marketed by Influenza Inc. The idea was that you might start the day a gibbering fever-wracked wreck but a couple of Codrals would sort you out to the point that you could stride confidently into the office and gift your germs to every single co-worker. It was probably less effective at spreading germs than tongue-kissing an entire commuter train, but only slightly. This ad gives a good impression of the wildly problematic vibe:
Now that Covid is over1, things have changed.2 It is, in some circles at least, frowned upon to go into work while sick, the better to cough into your co-workers’ open mouths. This is a net good, but sometimes — to pick an example not at all at random — you get sick, and then your wife gets it, and then your two-year-old son gets it, and even though your bronchial tubes and sinuses resemble the Yellow River in flood you still have to get up and make breakfast and do dishes and do the stuff you do to pay the mortgage. In short, you must soldier on, if only via Zoom. Of course you should lie down and take the rest you need but there are times in your life when you simply can’t.
If I have to be sick, I’d like the chance to feel capable of doing the needful during the day before gratefully collapsing into bed. Yes, there are longer and more nuanced discussions to be had about taking self-improvement in tablet form, or capitalism’s insistence on carrying on while crook, but I feel it’s entirely reasonable to feel shortchanged by some politician’s clumsy attempt to be Tough On Crime by removing an entire country’s access to medicine. And maybe, just maybe, there are larger lessons to be learned about the ineffectiveness of wholesale drug prohibition.
All this is a long way of saying that any political party that runs for election on the platform of restoring pseudoephedrine to its rightful place on New Zealand pharmacy shelves will win in a fucking landslide.
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Thanks for reading. Don’t worry about me. It’s not Covid, I’m feeling much better, I’m enjoying my holiday, and I’ve got pseudoephedrine to thank for it. None of this really has anything to do with self-help but I have helped my self by ranting about it. Thank you for your time.