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Chain reaction

Business | The war on drugs took a new course this month drugstore chains moved popular over-the-counter cold medications behind their pharmacy counters

Issue: "Memorial Day 2005," May 28, 2005

The war on drugs took a new course this month as Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and a number of other national drugstore chains announced plans to move many of their most popular over-the-counter cold medications behind their pharmacy counters.

That's because pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in medications like Sudafed, Nyquil, and Sinutab, can also be used to create methamphetamine, an illegal drug whose popularity and use has surged in recent years.

A recent study by Quest Diagnostics found that positive tests for amphetamines among job applicants and workers rose six percent last year. Although that's down from double-digit increases in 2001 and 2002, it's still a much higher rate of growth than for other drugs.

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It's a fact that hasn't escaped the attention of state lawmakers, who have implemented inconsistent laws regarding the sale of pseudoephedrine products, a troublesome trend for companies that run pharmacies in different states. That's why many of the larger chains have enacted their own policies.

It's also the reason why the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which represents more than 36,000 pharmacies, has reversed its position on proposed federal legislation that would require pseudoephedrine to be sold by a pharmacist and would call for purchases to be tracked on a customer-by-customer basis to assist law enforcement efforts.

Hybrid hike

As gas prices remain high, the hybrid car market is soaring, too.

Automotive analyst R.L. Polk & Co. reports that new hybrid vehicle registrations jumped 81 percent last year to 83,153. Nearly one-third of the new cars, which combine a traditional internal combustion engine with a rechargeable battery and an electric motor, were sold in California.

Of course, hybrid registrations still represent a drop in the bucket of the 17 million new vehicles sold nationwide in 2004. But considering that just 7,781 hybrid vehicles were sold in the United States four years ago, it's a trend automakers can't ignore. Major automakers are expected to introduce more than a dozen new hybrid vehicles in the next three years.

Last year, the Toyota Prius dominated the U.S. hybrid market with more than 53,000 new Prius cars registered. Through the first three months of this year, Toyota says that it is on track to double its Prius sales in 2005.

New hybrid versions to be released this year include the Lexus RX400h, Mercury Mariner and Toyota Highlander SUVs. Hybrid vehicles typically cost $3,000 to $4,000 more than traditional models.

Balance Sheet

· What can Brown do for you? If you own shares in Overnite Corp., package-delivery company UPS just pushed your stock price up 46 percent with its proposed deal to acquire the Virginia-based trucking firm. UPS will pay $1.25 billion, or $43.25 per share to expand its ground transportation capabilities.

· Can you put a value on the economic worth of a stay-at-home mom? Salary.com's informal survey determined that the nation's 5.4 million stay-at-home moms would earn an average of $131,471 annually if they received a paycheck for each of their job titles. Among the titles were day-care center teacher, van driver, housekeeper, cook, chief executive officer, nurse, and general maintenance worker.

· The organic foods market soared from $3.57 billion nationwide in 1997 to $10.38 billion in 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association. The group predicts sales will reach $14.5 billion by the end of 2005 as Americans buy everything from radishes to beef grown without conventional pesticides and fertilizers, biotechnology, antibiotics, or growth hormones.

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