The debate by the Fenton Board of Aldermen over a proposed law that would require a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine products in the city has lasted on for weeks.
Thursday night, the aldermen narrowly rejected the proposed bill, sponsored by Alderman Chris Clauss, on a 4-3 vote with one alderman, Joe Maurath, abstaining.
Voting for the prescription-only requirement were aldermen Harold Bade, Clauss, and Jim Mauller. Opposed were aldermen Paul Seemayer, Jerry Sorge, Dan Borgard and Gary Fischer. The 4-3 tally means pharmacies still may sell a box pseudoephedrine nasal relief products, such as Sudafed or Actifed, without requiring a prescription.
Those who favor making pseudoephedrine more difficult to purchase say it will help lessen the production of methamphetamine, of which pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient. Opponents are concerned that requiring a doctor's prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine is an unnecessary expense and hassle for consumers.
The issue gained the attention of Fenton legislators following a statewide report that showed three Fenton area pharmacies ranked 1st, 3rd and 7th for the most pseudoephedrine products sold statewide in March. Those pharmacies are Walgreens, 1001 Bowles Ave. (just outside the city limits but in the Fenton area) (1,813 boxes) Walgreens, 701 Gravois Bluffs Blvd., (1,499 boxes) and Walmart, 657 Gravois Bluffs Blvd. (1,210 boxes).
That's 4,522 boxes of pseudoephedrine products sold in the Fenton area in March alone. The city's population is 4,022. Either everyone in town had sinus congestion, or meth makers are flocking to Fenton to purchase pseudoephedrine.
Clauss said the numbers were alarming to her.
"Fenton only has a population of 4,022 people. The people who are purchasing pseudoephedrine are not all law-abiding people and are not people I want in my town. This bill takes a bad element out of our city."
The high sales totals are partially fueled by the fact that Jefferson and Franklin counties have "prescription only" laws, which means Fenton becomes an easy destination for pseudoephedrine purchasers. There also is no prescription-only law in St. Louis County.
Maurath also took note of the high sales numbers, adding that at least some of the purchases were by people with medical needs.
"Part of those boxes (of pseudoephedrine products) are going to law-abiding citizens," he said, "For us to pass this ordinance is to put more of a burden on our residents."
Maurath, explaining his abstention on the prescription-only bill, said he had listened to arguments on both sides of the issue from his fellow aldermen and from his constituents.
"The arguments on both sides were good," he said. "I don't think one outweighed the other. Quite frankly it was up in the air."
Maurath said the State of Missouri should have stepped in and passed a prescription only law statewide, but said it likely hasn't happened because of intense lobbying by drug company lobbyists who oppose prescription-only measures.
Bade said he didn't want to make it difficult for Fenton residents to obtain the medications they need. "I don't want to put a burden on our citizens."
Seemayer said he was sympathetic to a call that would make it more difficult for meth makers to purchase pseudoephedrine, but said he was uncertain whether a law in Fenton would make much difference.
"What we do here isn't going to change things," he said.
There was one point of agreement among the aldermen Thursday: Despite the high sales volume of pseudoephedrine, there is not a big meth problem in the city.
Captain Jeff Bader, commander of the St. Louis County Police Department Fenton Precinct researched meth lab busts in St. Louis County and found only seven in Fenton in 2011 with most of those being the so-called "shake and bake" small-volume mobile meth labs.
There currently is a product going through the government regulatory process that could address the conflict of meth makers vs. residents who need an effective decongestant. It's called Releva.
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.
Had it been approived, the Fenton bill also would have regulated its sale to prescription-only as well, because it contains pseudoephedrine.
Clauss said there was no way to know when Releva might become available but that it was her intention to propose an exemption for it when it comes to market. However, an exemption won't ne needed now, following the rejection of Fenton's prescription-only proposal.