Since 2004 Oklahoma, like a growing number of other U.S. states, has placed restrictions on the over-the-counter (non-prescription) purchase of drugs containing pseudoephedrine, like Sudafed. Methamphetamine is “cooked” in meth labs using pseudoephedrine and other chemicals. By requiring consumers to show their driver’s license when purchasing legal over-the-counter drugs which include pseudoephedrine, Oklahoma has made it more difficult for people running meth labs to acquire the ingredients needed to cook their illegal drugs.

Late this afternoon, I stopped by a local Walgreens to purchase some Mucinex D, a cold medicine that includes pseudoephedrine. When the pharmacy attendant tried to scan my driver’s license, the system could not issue an approval because (according to the employee) the statewide system for verifying ID cards was offline and had been offline all day.

server graph shows outage

What?

No backup system when the technology fails? No way to record my driver’s license number with a good ‘ole pen and paper? Nope. Apparently (again according to the Walgreens employee) they had called other pharmacies throughout the day at Wal-Mart and other locations, and heard the same story: No one could get a driver’s license scan approval from the electronic state system.

Good thing I didn’t have a life threatening health condition which required pseudoephedrine.

When folks design systems, they need to consider the reality that backup systems are needed when computer systems fail. Shouldn’t there be a contingency plan in place across the state when something like this happens? Apparently there isn’t, or our local WalGreens manager hasn’t read that memo yet.

I suppose I should be glad technology does not appear to overly disrupt my life MORE than it does. I remember several years ago when I was supposed to take an early flight from Lubbock, Texas, to Kansas City, Kansas, and all flights at the airport were delayed several hours because of a massive computer virus attack that had taken down many servers across the Internet. The virus wasn’t the Code Red worm, but it was similar. Unpatched Windows servers running SQL had been hit by malware. Because I was supposed to rent a car and then drive three hours after my flight arrived, to make an afternoon meeting, the flight delay ended up canceling all of my travel plans for the day since I couldn’t make my meeting. (It was a Scouting award ceremony for my father, actually, and I was quite disappointed to miss it.) I remember thinking at the time that we, as a society, are already SO dependent on the Internet… and that dependency is only going to grow more acute in the years ahead.

Here we are now, in 2008. A state government server goes down for some reason, and now no one in the state of Oklahoma can legally purchase over-the-counter medication containing Sudafed for an entire day… Wow.

I’d be willing to wager the server that went down was running a Windows server OS. Maybe I should write a letter to the governor and recommend that the state starts running all Mac and/or Linux servers, which are less buggy and prone to malware attacks? I’ll watch our local newspapers the next couple of days to see if this event is picked up as an official story. Surely other consumers with the flu or colds seeking medication today in Oklahoma were inconvenienced by this “server glitch.” 🙁

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  • Great post. Here in Missouri we have the same law but just write down our information in a log with pen and paper – no server issues.

  • I have been in Wal-Mart stores in the past two years here in Oklahoma when the clerk has written down my driver’s license, but that hasn’t happened in quite awhile, so I’m assuming we’ve “upgraded” as a state to this online system. For people just buying one package of medicine, it would seem reasonable they could write down the person’s name with a pen when the server is down or unavailable!

  • As quality in IT is definitely not a standard, we should have laws that avoid such a situation !

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