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In a Battle Against Meth, Fenton Considers a Prescription-Only Pseudoephedrine Law

Fenton pharmacies are among top statewide sellers of pseudoephedrine products, although meth lab seizures remain low.

The has become the newest focal point in the battle against methamphetamine as the Board of Aldermen considers making pseudoephedrine medications only available by prescription.

But the battle is as much about competing philosophies and use of statistics as it is about finding and busting meth labs.

Pseudoephedrine, which is contained in such sinus relief products as Sudafed and Actifed, is a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth.

One statistic is clear cut: Three of the top seven retailers in Missouri for the sale of pseudoephedrine products are located in the Fenton area. The at 1001 Bowles Ave., which is just over the City of Fenton's border, is No. 1 in the state, with 1,813 boxes of medications sold last month.

Within the city limits, the at 701 Gravois Bluffs Blvd. sold 1,499 boxes to rank fourth on the statewide list, and the at 657 Gravois Bluffs Blvd. claimed seventh place with 1,210 boxes sold last month.

That's 4,522 boxes of pseudoephedrine products sold in the Fenton area in the last month alone. The city's population is 4,022. Either everyone in town has sinus congestion, or meth makers are flocking to Fenton to purchase pseudoephedrine.

The density of sales in Fenton gained the attention of Sgt. Jason Grellner, a well-known meth crusader of sorts who is president of the Missouri Narcotics Association and Unit Commander of the Franklin County Narcotics Unit. He appeared before the Fenton mayor and aldermen last week to urge them to pass a prescription-only pseudoephedrine ordinance.

One local company calls Grellner a meth "rock star" because of the vast amount of research and first-hand experience he has with meth labs and their effects on public health. Grellner has waged his crusade in local and state government venues, trying to convince legislators at all levels to pass prescription-only pseudoephedrine laws.

Currently, those prescription-only laws are in place in Jefferson County and in such nearby communities as Wildwood and Eureka. It's one reason Fenton, which doesn't have such an ordinance, is a popular destination for those who want to buy pseudoephedrine medications.

Grellner is pushing local, county and state lawmakers to approve laws that require a doctor's prescription to buy pseudoephedrine. If approved, a doctor could prescribe up to three boxes with a single prescription. Currently, those who need sinus relief can only purchase one box.

To support his position, Grellner asks a compelling question: "Does anyone remember any meth labs prior to 1976?" And then he provides the answer: "Neither do I. That's because prior to 1976, you needed a prescription to buy pseudoephedrine."

Grellner said pseudoephedrine today is a $1.2 billion business for the drug companies that make it. There were 16,000 meth labs seized in the U.S. last year, and just over half of them were in Missouri, Grellner said. 

And although some municipalities and counties have passed prescription-only ordinances, Grellner said a statewide law is going nowhere in the Missouri General Assembly.

Why?

"They (drug companies) want to keep selling pseudoephedrine as fast and furious as they can," Grellner said. "It is 100 percent about the money. ($1.2 billion) amounts to a lot of money available for lobbying legislators to prevent prescription-only laws from being passed."

Opponents argue for consumer choice

Jim Gwinner, who represents the Consumer Health Products Administration, argued a different point during the Fenton meeting. He called it an unnecessary financial burden for patients.

"I know this issue of drug abuse and methamphetamine abuse is a very serious issue," Gwinner said. "We recognize the growing problem. But we shouldn't be going to the extreme of taking a safe and legal product off the shelves for consumers."

Gwinner and Grellner routinely provide opposite arguments about the pseudoephedrine issue at government venues across the state.

Access to pseudoephedrine medications and the inconvenience that some say would be a result of a prescription-only law and the increase in meth labs are the two sides of the debate on which in which Grellner and Gwinner repeatedly lock horns. It's a dilemma the Fenton aldermen also wrestled with. Some aldermen say they sympathize with Grellner's battles against meth labs, but also want to make sure they are not placing undue barriers on citizens who only want sinus relief.

Alderman Gary Fischer said bluntly at one point during the meeting: "I have a big nose." Fischer said he often is plagued with nasal passage blockage due to a cold or respiratory ailment, adding that pseudoephedrine is very effective at treating his symptoms. He said he would have to make a doctor's appointment to obtain a prescription if Fenton approves a plan to require prescription-only pseudoephedrine sales.

Alderman Dan Borgard suggested a prescription should be as easy to get as making a phone call to the family doctor, but Fischer said his doctor requires a visit first.

Grellner argues that a prescription-only law actually could save time and effort for patients because they could pick up as many as three boxes in one visit to the pharmacy with a prescription, instead of three trips for one box each under the current law.

"There is nobody dying from a stuffy nose," Grellner said. But he said it's not the case with meth addicts and those near them. Grellner said it is common for people to be burned when the plastic bottle in which meth is made explodes or catches fire, in a method called "shake and bake." Other hazards come from the highly toxic chemicals used in manufacture of meth, including anhydrous ammonia and others. 

"Ninety percent of the pseudoephedrine that is purchased is going to meth labs," Grellner said. "Why do my meth labs have to continue because Fenton still wants to sell pseudoephedrine?" 

Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock says it's not as simple as that.

"It's hard to determine what's the right answer," Hancock said. "Meth is a scourge on our society, but I don't think it's because people can buy pseudoephedrine in Fenton. They are going to go wherever they can to find it."

Take our poll at the end of this article to tell us how you feel about Fenton's proposed presciption-only ordinance.

Do high sales of pseudoephedrine lead to more meth labs in Fenton?

Capt. Jeff Bader, commander of the , mapped out every meth lab seizure in St. Louis and Jefferson counties in 2011.

He discovered that although Fenton is a popular place to buy pseudoephedrine, meth labs are not a major problem.

"We don't see a whole lot of meth-related crime in Fenton," Bader said. "Forty percent of our time is actually consumed combatting heroin usage."

Bader said many of the burglaries and petty thefts in Fenton are due to people stealing items they can sell in order to buy heroin.

And that goes for pseudoephedrine, too. Bader said some pseudoephedrine purchasers are using the medication to trade for heroin, adding that a box of pseudoephedrine can be worth $50-$60 in trade.

Despite the thousands of boxes of pseudoephedrine sold in Fenton, the Fenton police department only had seven meth lab seizures in 2011, and none of those were at a home. Three were at local motels. The rest were seized by officers from various vehicles, so-called rolling labs, that had been stopped for other infractions.

Bader's report shows a high incidence of meth lab seizures clustered in the Oakville and Mehlville areas with another cluster near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The Jefferson County map shows meth lab seizures scattered throughout the county.

Bader said part of the city's concern about being the location of high pseudoephedrine sales is that it brings a bad element to town who might be involved with other crimes while they're here. He's also concerned that requiring a prescription would merely push the sale of the medications to another community, like neighboring Sunset Hills, for example.

For that reason, Bader, Hancock and some of the Fenton aldermen favor a St. Louis County-wide prescription-only law. Grellner said he has talked with St. Louis County officials and hopes he can convince them to approve such legislation.

New medication could curb meth production

Another issue in whether to pass a prescription-only ordinance in Fenton is the possibility that a new drug will make the matter a moot point. The new medication is called Releva. It's being manufactured by Highland Pharmaceuticals, a Maryland Heights company.

Releva is different from products like Sudafed because the pseudoephedrine it contains cannot be extracted or converted in order to make meth. It uses a formulation known as Tarex.

"We are able to thwart both processes," said Emilie Dolan, director of marketing and media relations for Highland Pharmaceuticals.

Typically, the pseudoephedrine is cooked with dangerous and highly flammable chemicals to yield the highly addictive stimulant. When pseudoephedrine is delivered in the Tarex format (a solid dose, oral capsule), this standard separation process is interrupted, resulting in a gummy-like substance, which subsequently will not crystallize, according to a company description of Releva.

In testing, the technology has returned exceptionally strong sinus relief results, making it a viable alternative to current efforts that focus on the illegal sale and distribution of pseudoephedrine, including physician prescription requirements, Dolan said.

Grellner is impressed with Highland's success with Releva.

"It's the most promising drug we've ever seen," he said. "We should be really, really proud of (Highland)."

But Releva has not been approved to be sold over the counter yet. The medication, which has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration, is awaiting approval of an exemption from the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act 2005 of the Drug Enforcement Administration. A DEA exemption would allow Releva to be sold on store shelves and therefore would not be subject to a limited number of boxes, nor would consumers need a doctor's prescription to get it.

Dolan said she couldn't estimate when the exemption might be approved.

"The real appeal of Releva is that people will be able to walk into a pharmacy and buy the product off store shelves," Dolan said. "We want them to have unencumbered access."

With the prospect of Releva being available on store shelves, possibly in the coming months, some Fenton aldermen are reluctant to approve legislation that would inconvenience the public by requiring a doctor's prescription for existing pseudoephedrine medications.

Although a formal vote was not taken at last week's meeting, some aldermen suggested the law would be less necessary when a product such as Releva is available freely at local pharmacies.

The prescription-only pseudoephedrine ordinance is expected to be voted on at the May 24 meeting of the Fenton Board of Aldermen.

Let us know how you feel about the proposed prescription-only proposal in Fenton in our poll below.

Crazy B May 12, 2012 at 04:10 PM
I'm torn on this subject. As a person who suffers from constant sinus congestion, which if it isn't treated causes massive nasal polyps, a prescription only law would make it hard for me. I have had 3 sinus polyp surgeries in my life, 2 of which resulted in the removal of softball sized polyps that took over my entire left sinus, growing out and being visible hanging in the back of my throat. I go to a specialist, in which insurance requires me to make a $40 copayment. In this economy, paying $40 per month for a medication that is currently over the counter, would definitely hurt my budget. The alternative: yet another surgery. On the other hand, as a mother, it is important to keep my child and all children safe from these addictive drugs that are being made, as well as from the "shake and bake" bottles and meth labs everywhere. This is a real epidemic that needs some major attention. My only hope is that when Releva does become available, they can somehow make this exempt from the prescription only law if it were to pass. That way those of us who legitimately need this medication can have uninterrupted access, as it cannot be turned into meth. And the medications that can be turned into meth, would be required to have a prescription. The problem with this is, I think it would just turn into another issue regarding "dirty" doctors and prescription pad theft. The point is they WILL find a way around it. So like I said before, I'm very torn on this subject.
Gina Collins May 13, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I'm an allergy and sinus sufferer and currently uninsured. why should we be punished for their actions. They need to find a better way of regulating this.
Mellors May 13, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Really want to stop illicit buyers supplying PSE to meth cooks? Don't require a prescription. Require a thumbprint.
Nick May 14, 2012 at 04:28 PM
What about people who are forced into mail order prescriptions because of insurance. then you have to get a prescription and then wait for it to come in the mail. What about aersool that kids sniff, or gasoline because of arsonists. I am assuming it is easier to regulate the chemicals like ammonia than sudafed which many need. the alternative sudafed sucks.
Debra May 14, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Sales are up in surrounding areas because the law abiding citizens are being forced into surrounding areas to purchase a legal product. The electronic monitoring real time stop sale system is working and working well. If 90% of the products sold are truly ending up in meth labs, Off. Grellner should be able to obtain the names and addresses of all the purchasers from the monitoring system. I would think that would make finding and arresting the offenders easier.
Nancie Gildehaus May 15, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Whatever we need to do to keep METH OUT OF SCHOOLS AND THE STREETS!
Nancie Gildehaus May 15, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Whatever we need to do to keep Meth out of schools and the streets!
beverly thurmond May 15, 2012 at 01:16 AM
hey trying to live on a disability budget and also a widow,,and making house payments house ins car ins and utility bills all on 700 per month,,i cant afford to go to the doctors now with the 30 to 50 amonth co payments,if i get sick i go get the meds for colds and sinus i couldnt afford to go to the doc just to get a script for sinus meds that cost less than 10,00 over the counter,,drug maker will find a way to get it or use something else in its place,,these things only hurt the poor and non drug users
Cindy Lynn May 15, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Exactly what I was thinking! I drive to Fenton and purchase my allergy tablets......because that is the closest place that I am able to get them due to everywhere else blocking me. I live almost 60 miles away. It is RIDICULOUS! I don't make a special trip for them but everytime I am in town, I definitely stock up. And NOT so I can make any meth. This is a huge burden already. PLEASE PLEASE let the laws already in place take care of it, don't shut down sales in Fenton.
Bonnie Barnes May 15, 2012 at 07:10 AM
Why should we suffer because other people choose to use them wrongfully
tom emig May 16, 2012 at 06:14 AM
You can't stop illegal activity by passing more laws. Criminals by definition, do not follow laws. Laws only stop good citizens from getting needed medication. Something we should not be trying to do. Criminals will ignore the law and find a way to circumvent it. Thats what makes them criminals. Someone who will abuse drugs and use them wrongly, will find a way to do it reguardless of the law. There is just no way to prvent it. All drugs need to be available to all adults without a prescription. At some point in our past there were no such things as prescriptions. People self medicated, and some of course abused. People wanted to protect friends and family from abuse. They passed laws which don't work, so they pass more laws that won't work. When will people learn that education will do more to curb the drug problem than prohibition? Didn't we learn that lesson with alcohol? Prohibition was passed, it made no difference except to create a very proffitable black market for criminals to make money selling booze. And not just booze but poorly made booze that killed people. Since the whole booze industry was illegal anyway there were no safty measures in force to make a safe product and people died. People saw the light, prohibition was repealed and although we still have serious problems, things are much better. End the prohibition against drugs, and the same thing will happen, things will improve, but problems will never go away.
tom emig May 16, 2012 at 06:40 AM
Not to pick on anyone but another poster asks, is going to the doctor too high a price to pay to stop a dangerous drug? The answer is yes for me. I can't afford the doctor and if I could, I can't afford the way over inflated prices at the pharmacy. And more importantly it absolutely will not stop or even slow down the criminal enterprise of poisoning our youth. The dealers of such drugs will be finding supplies in other towns, other states or other countries way before the law is passed or in effect. Our youth only try these poor quality homemade drugs because they can't afford better drugs. They can't afford better drugs because they can't afford to pay off a doctor to get a prescription, and if they could afford that then they still have to deal with pharmacy prices. And since they want drugs, and are determined to have them they are forced by people who pass insane laws, to poison themselves with poor quality homemade crap, that somebody cooked up at home. I am not a drug user, except for medicinal drugs. I probably would use more drugs if I could afford doctors and pharmacies however. The pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists that keep the drug prohibition in effect so they can deal to us, are killing recreational drug abusers by making recreational drugs impossible to get. So recreational drug abusers by cheap crap on the street that eventually kills them.
tom emig May 16, 2012 at 07:09 AM
Educate people against abusing drugs. Make drugs cheap and available to all adults, just like alcohol, and tax them. Make sure FDA approved drugs are cheap enough over the counter, so that illegal manufacturers cannot afford to produce low quality versions for less money. If there is no proffit in drugs then no one is going to spend any time making them, smuggling them, or trying to get your kid hooked on them. Law enforcement can forget about drug smuggling and illegal sales because they will no longer exist, and can spend more time catching abusers and people dealing to under age kids. Without drug sales to worry about, gang members will have much less reason to kill each other over no longer valuable territory, and the general public who often find themselves in the crossfire will be safer. And just maybe without huge amounts of money to be made selling drugs in your neighborhoods and schools, kids will stop joining gangs and value educations and jobs like everyone else. Then its up to parents and teachers to do their jobs and educate kids about the dangers of abuse. A happier world awaits!
Phil Carman May 16, 2012 at 01:01 PM
If you want the truth about meth in America watch Frontline which was aired last night on PBS. It's available online. Among others, this point was made: you can't make meth without pseudoephedrine. No pse, no meth. Period
Joe Bloe May 16, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Meth is a horrible drug that is wrecking individual's and families lives. If requiring a prescription will cut down on meth manufacturing I believe it is a good move.
Bill Matlach May 16, 2012 at 06:39 PM
There are so many alternatives for sinus congestion and allergies: Benedryl, Tavist, Suphedrine PE, Tylenol Sinus Congestion, Equate (Walmart) versions of some of these, etc, etc. I have several sinus medicines, used infrequently, which do not contain pseudoephedrine. Yet we are inundated with radio commercials about our right to have sinus medicine. We are being fooled into thinking that limiting one particular medicine will infringe on our rights. There are many alternatives. Why not eliminate the one ingredient that is causing enormous problems? Try another medicine.
Matt Hay May 17, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Not true. Phenyl Acetic Acid can be reduced to Phenyl-2-Propanone (P2P) which can then be reduced to Methamphetamine. Grellner has his history incorrect. PSE was made OTC in '76 however, it did not become the predominant precursor for meth production until the 90's. Meth production started with the Outlaw Biker Gangs in Cali, who used the P2P method. This was then ditched in the late 80's for ephedrine, as it had a higher yield. When Ephedrine production and distribution was clamped down on by the FDA in the 90's, PSE began to be used as a precursor. Point being, Phenyl Acetic Acid is easily obtained and can be used just as easily as a precursor in the P2P method. All this "No Pseudoephedrine, no Meth" is just wholly and completely factually inaccurate. Ask anyone versed in Organic Chemistry. I want to know if Grellner has any of his costs subsidized by Highland or anyone else. This one man crusade seems to be a perfect teeing up for Highland to hawk Releva in a monopoly in which Grellner has laid the groundwork.
Matt Hay May 17, 2012 at 03:08 AM
No, we are not being fooled. You are being fooled to think that PSE is the only precursor that can be used in Meth Production. Pfizer's own chemists, in 2005, even admitted what had been known for a while. That even Phenylephrinem, the active (and less effective) ingredient in PSE "Free" medications, can be reduced to methamphetamine. Their argument is that the synthesis is likely too complicated for the average backyard chemist......all this while Cambodians harvest Safrole Oil and convert it to 3,4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA aka Ecstacy), a much more complicated synthesis, in the middle of the jungles of Cambodia. Anyone that knows anything about Organic Chemistry, which it appears Grellner does not, knows that organic chemistry is simply the rearrangement of Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen atoms. It is all about finding and creating analogues. In fact, with a specific sugar, a particular strain of yeast, and the proper synthesis procedure, one can even actually synthesize Pseudoephedrine should they be so inclined.
TJ May 17, 2012 at 03:32 AM
You think eliminating one ingredient from Meth is going to stop these unskilled chemist from making a buck. I say let the meth heads kill themselves if they're that stupid to do it. We have troops overseas getting killed everyday who cares about people trying to kill themselves with meth.
Tiffany May 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM
Tiffany Why should people needing the meds suffer because others choose to use them in a negative way. Also the increase in sales in Fetin is related to people going to Fenton that can't make the needed purchase closer to their home. This is due to the band in Jefferson county if Fenton follows along then you will see a increase in St Louis sales. Tell me are we fixing anything oh Yes more people are sick, higher RX, increase in office visits and ER visits. Oh and more government control!!!!!
Debbie Goode May 17, 2012 at 09:05 PM
No this is stupid. We pay enough to go the dr when we're sick. This would cause deaths in seniors who already struggle to pay bills. Do you really think there going to go get cold meds from a dr and pay his bill
Molly May 24, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I used to be a user. Trust me, you will always find a way or a different drug to use if you can't find what you want. PERIOD.
Goin ham May 25, 2012 at 05:30 AM
If a prescription is required shouldnt health insurance cover the medicine !! Just sayin ' prescriptions are not gonna "STOP " meth !! Get real everyone !! Next they will b requiring prescriptions for acetaminophen , advil , motrin , benedryl etc !!
James R. Jeffries May 25, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Oh yeah then you have to pay a doctor to write a script,easy to see who is behind this.All types of ingredients have been outlawed that are used to make meth,hasn.t stopped them yet.They just find another worse poison to substitue,Find the why of people wanting to use it!I don't think drugs will ever be stopped, lawyers courts and prisons would be mainly out of business,Not to mention a lot of police!!!
tom emig May 25, 2012 at 06:58 PM
How bout we outlaw telephones and disrupt their communications! Then outlaw cars, this will surely cripple their supply lines. Then enact a curfew so nobody can go outside without permission. If we outlaw all these things it will take away honest folks ability to talk on the phone and drive too, it will curtail our freedom but it will be worth it to slow down this horrible drug! Do you hear what I'm saying people! You are pissing in the wind with any law, and spattering innocent bystanders, while criminals simply don't care what the law says. They are willing to rob, kill and steal in order to have what they want. Thats why, in mans entire history on earth laws only hurt the innocent. Laws can only punish criminals. they cannot stop them from committing crimes. You have the power to ignore any law you want to today. Some of you sped to work, some of you chose not to. Some of you took an extra Tylenol for your headache, some of you read the label and knew that taking an extra one was not only not recommended but in fact was illegal! we choose to follow laws when they are convenient for us and the consequences are light. People commit more serious crimes when they need something they can't find a legal way to have. And when it happens to be a chemical dependancy, they are not thinking clearly and will take any risk. People always have and always will use drugs and alcohol.

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