The Franklin County Commission Tuesday approved an order allowing an exemption to its pseudoephedrine prescription requirement.
The exemption will allow special medications which are designed to prevent the extraction of pseudoephedrine, the vital ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine to be sold without a prescription.
One of those tamper-resistant medications is Highland Pharmaceuticals’ Zephrex-D, an ephedrine-based cough and cold medication manufactured using a lipid base.
The privately owned Maryland Heights-based company is pushing to have its product on sale in pharmacies Nov. 1, Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner, head of the Franklin County drug task force, said previously.
Grellner has been working with the company, and counties in the St. Louis area, to get a product in pharmacies that can’t be used to make meth and can be obtained by consumers who need a cold and allergy medication.
That has been the main argument against the prescription requirements — consumers have to contact doctors or schedule office visits to obtain prescriptions, making the process of obtaining the medication more costly and time-consuming.
Grellner said the new formula would get rid of that inconvenience and eliminate the source of a vital ingredient in the methamphetamine manufacturing process.
The commission order approved Tuesday makes Franklin County the second to adopt a prescription policy with the tamper-resistant medication exemption.
St. Charles County amended its previously passed ordinance to exempt formulas resistant to meth making last month.
Over 70 Missouri communities have adopted pseudoephedrine prescription requirements over the past several years.
Labs on the Rise
Grellner told commissioners that meth labs in the area are on the rise, but said it was because of the lack of prescription pseudoephedrine requirements in neighboring St. Louis County and St. Louis city.
He said last month that Jefferson County is on pace to reach 400 lab busts this year.
“We’re talking about a part of the state and nation that holds the record for most meth labs,” Grellner said. “When St. Louis city and county get on board, the number of meth labs in the region should drop drastically.”
He told The Missourian last month that both entities are considering adopting prescription requirements in large part because of Zephrex-D.
St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch and Dr. Dolores Gunn, health director for St. Louis County, both have voiced their support for prescription requirements with exemptions for the new drug formula.
Limited Impact Locally
The county’s ordinance applies only to Hall’s Pharmacy, the only pharmacy located in unincorporated Franklin County. The city of St. Clair, which has two pharmacies, is the only incorporated community in the county that has not adopted a pseudoephedrine prescription requirement.
“The next thing is to contact all the cities about the county’s new ordinance,” Grellner told The Missourian Tuesday. “I’ll leave it up to them as to how they handle it.”
Each city with a prescription law could leave the ordinance as is, repeal it and follow the county’s ordinance, or add the exemption to their current ordinance.
The county’s new regulation could be used as a template for others looking to update existing prescription regulations or adopt new ones, he said.
Grellner said Highland Pharmaceuticals has applied for an exemption to federal Drug Enforcement Administration requirements for pseudoephedrine to be kept behind pharmacists’ counters.
Those requirements have been in place since the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 was passed.
“The hope is that by Christmas, the new products will have their exemption,” Grellner said.
He said a Chicago-based company is working on a similar product.
Still, Grellner and County Counselor Mark Vincent acknowledged that there’s no guarantee the process is fool proof.
The order contains a provision allowing the county commission to revoke exemption status if it is found that a product that is supposed to be tamper resistant can still have its pseudoephedrine ingredients extracted.
“The county can use that clause to revoke the exemption status, which would then require the company to come before the commission to explain why the exemption should not be revoked,” Vincent said.