Manchester considers adopting pseudoephedrine regulation
By: Kate Uptergrove
When the Manchester Board of Aldermen gathered Sept. 18 top on the list of topics to be discussed was the role pseudoephedrine plays in the making of methamphetamine.
St. Louis County Police Detective Mike McCartney put it simply.
“Pseudoephedrine is the one thing that if you don’t have it you won’t make meth,” he said.
McCartney was at the meeting to talk about the crisis of meth in Missouri and the role that communities, like Manchester, can play in fighting the problem.
Currently the city is considering a bill, sponsored by Alderman John Schrader (Ward 3) that would make it illegal to buy products containing pseudoephedrine, including Sudafed, Actifed and other cold and allergy products, without a prescription within city limits.
McCartney is in favor of the law and he’s not the only one.
Sgt. Jason Grellner, unit commander of the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit and president of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association, who McCartney described as having “great passion for this topic” also thinks every pharmacy should require a prescription.
On July 24, Grellner submitted to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Subcommitee on Healthcare testimony that stressed the importance of community involvement in the fight against methamphetamine.
McCartney referred to Grellner’s testimony several times during his presentation, citing statistics and outcomes including the example of Washington, Mo., the first city to adopt a prescription ordinance.
According to Grellner’s testimony, “In the 90 days prior to the ordinance going into effect (July 2009), five pharmacies in Washington sold 4,346 boxes of cold tablets. In the 90 days following the enactment of the ordinance, those same pharmacies experienced a 94 percent drop in sales and sold only 268 boxes. Inspecting sales records at pharmacies surrounding Washington during the same time period saw no rise in sales after the implementation of the ordinance. The city also experienced an 85 percent decrease in meth lab related calls for service to the police.”
McCartney told the Board, “Pharmacy companies are going to tell you that we don’t need prescription requirements because of the tracking system (currently in place that requires ID to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine and limits the quantity that can be purchased by one person in a 30-day period). But the system does not work.”
“It’s a database,” Grellner said in a later interview. “It’s just like a fingerprint database. It’s a tool for investigation, it does not prevent the crime.”
Grellner pointed out that pill brokers can tap anyone with an ID to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine for $10-$12 a box and sell it to meth makers for up to $100 a box. The tracking system does nothing to prevent these transactions.
McCartney added that pharmaceutical companies stand to lose $18 million in loss sales if a prescription becomes mandatory across Missouri.
One pharmaceutical company that would not be affected by the prescription requirement is Maryland Heights-based Westport Pharmaceuticals and its parent company Highland Pharmaceuticals.
Highland representative, Paul Hemings also spoke at the Manchester Board meeting, reinforcing McCartney’s assessment of the importance of limiting methamphetamine production.
“In November we are introducing our first meth-resistant pseudoephedrine product,” Hemings said.
The product, Zethrex-D, uses a new technology known as Tarex® and described as an innovative, lipid based, tamper/extraction resistant technology that delivers pharmaceuticals in a format that maintains patient efficacy while deterring misuse of the medication.
“Zethrex-D,” Hemings said, “is a product that cannot be converted to methamphetamine. Our goal as a company is to end the illicit meth production while improving access to the decongestant people need most.
“With these laws, the issue is always consumer access. I don’t think there is any one solution out there, it’s got to be a comprehensive, total solution.”
Alderman Paul C. Hamill (Ward 1), noted that the regulation of pseudoephedrine “sounds like something that has to be addressed on a regional level.” And Alderman Barbara Stevens (Ward 1) inquired if St. Louis County was considering a ban.
McCartney noted that the county was not considering a ban at this time; however, the cities of Eureka, Ellisville and Wildwood have one as well as the counties of Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln and St. Charles.
At a meeting of law enforcement and elected officials from Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln and St. Charles counties, held Sept. 20, Grellner noted that some officials have labeled St. Louis County and St. Louis City as “bad neighbors” for their refusal to adopt a prescription requirement.
“St. Louis County has failed to act and has failed to respond to requests to act,” he said. He noted that 95 percent of the pseudoephedrine firing up meth labs in neighboring counties comes directly from St. Louis County and St. Louis City.
Calls to Dr. Dolores Gunn, director of the Saint Louis County Department of Health, to learn more about St. Louis County’s position were not returned by presstime. However, Alderman Stevens may have hit on the key concern about prescription requirements, when she asked McCartney about the possibility of increased costs associated with needing a prescription.
While the Manchester Board considers what action to take locally, Grellner is working with Rep. David Schatz to revive a statewide prescription requirement in the form of House Bill 1952. Known as the Meth Lab Elimination Act, HB 1952, is expected to be reintroduced later this year.