A bill to require a doctor's prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine from Fenton pharmacies received more "yes" votes than "no" votes Thursday night, but it still will not become the law of the city.
The prescription-only bill apparently had been approved on a 4-2 vote. But the victory for proponents of the bill was short-lived. The reason? Even though the proposed law received a majority of aldermanic votes at Thursday's meeting, it did not achieve a majority of the full board, which is constituted to have eight members. One aldermanic seat is vacant after Alderman Jerry Sorge, Ward 2, moved from the city last fall. And, Alderman Gary Fischer, Ward 4, was absent Thurday. So, with four votes to approve the prescription-only bill, it did not meet the legal requirement of a majority of the full board. Five votes would have been necessary for approval.
Pseudoephedrine is a well-known component of the process of making methamphetamine. Pseudoephedrine products are not sold over-the-counter, and are limited to one box of the tablets at a time. And, since a prescription is required in Jefferson County, Manchester, and some other municipalities in St. Louis County, Fenton has become a destination of sorts for the sale of the decongestant. In fact, Sgt. Jason Grellner, of the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit and a well-travelled anti-meth advocate, said there were more than 3,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine tablets sold in two Fenton pharmacies in December alone. He said the fact that the drug is more readily available in Fenton means a bad element is attracted to town.
(See related stories: Top Pseudoephedrine Sellers in Missouri)
Since the Fenton Board of Aldermen began debating the prescription-only bill months ago, another pseudoephedrine product has hit pharmacy shelves that is different from the rest. It's called Zephrex-D and is manufactured in a way that won't allow the pseudoephedrine to be extracted for the making of meth. Made by Maryland Heights-based Highland Pharmaceuticals, Zephrex-D has been approved by the FDA but awaits certification by the Drug Enforcement Administration to allow it to be sold on store shelves just like any other drug store medicine. With Zephrex-D now available, some aldermen felt it was time to make it more difficult to purchase the other pseudoephedrine products that are used by meth makers, even if it meant that many pseudoephedrine products also would be more difficult for law-abiding residents to purchase.
"(Under Fenton's prescription-only proposal) everyone will have the opportunity to purchase pseudoephedrine," Grellner said. "But you won't have some 4,000-odd individuals visiting Fenton every month to buy these pills for their meth-making abilities."
Thursday's vote was the second time the prescription-only legislation failed to gain approval. Last June, the proposal was rejected on a 4-3 vote, partially in anticipation of the introduction of Zephrex-D (then known as Releva). The bill was brought up for reconsideration since Zephrex-D/Releva is now readily available.
One by one on Thursday, the mayor and the aldermen weighed in with an opinion of pseudoephedrine, methamphatamine and the effect of requiring a prescription for residents to purchase the pseudoephedrine products.
Alderman James Mauller, Ward 4, said the issue was a little bit like the current gun control debate. "The actions of a few are going to regulate the lives of law-abiding citizens." Although he originally favored the legislation, he said his opinion had evolved. He voted against the prescription-only bill Thursday night.
Alderman Joe Maurath, Ward 2, questioned the effectiveness of Zephex-D and said a more regionwide approach would be better to solve the problem of availability of meth. He said if Fenton passed the bill, meth cooks could just go to the next town and purchase pseudoephedrine. "We're just moving (the problem) along," he said.
Alderman Paul Seemayer, Ward 1, said he originally was opposed to a prescription-only plan, but with the advent of Zephrex-D, he changed his view.
"Now there is a viable option," Seemayer said. "Pseudoephedrine is pseudoephedrine is pseudoephedrine. It's all the same. With this new product it's making our area safer." Ultimately, Seemayer voted in favor of the prescription-only proposal.
The bill's sponsor—Alderman Chris Clauss—said that "maybe government does get in the way sometimes and maybe we are over-regulated." But she said the scourge of meth is such that Fenton should do something to keep it from being so readily available in the city.
Mayor Dennis Hancock, who does not have a vote on pending bills, said, "This hits home for a lot of people. The real question is 'Where do we draw the line (on regulations)?' Those who are determined to make meth are going to find a way. To me, this is a very slippery slope here."
The final yes/no vote Thursday on requiring a doctor's prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine was:
- Alderman Harold Bade - yes
- Seemayer - yes
- Maurath - no
- Clauss - yes
- Dan Borgard yes
- Mauller - no
The 4-2 tally meant the bill was one vote short of passage. With only seven members on the Board of Aldermen, with the vacant seat in Ward 2, five votes (or a majority of the full board as constituted) is needed for passage of legislation.
The final result of the vote, after months of debate by people in and out of the city, is that the prescription-only bill didn't lose, but it didn't get enough votes to win either.
Clauss is certain to bring the proposal back to the board for re-consideration at a future meeting. Stay tuned.