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The Fallacy of Zephrex-D?

Without federal exception status, it’s just another box behind the counter

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Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 11:23 pm

UPDATE: On Sept. 10, 2013 the DEA denied an exemption for Zephrex-D. The DEA said that the agency was able to produce meth from Zephrex-D, contrary to the claims made by the manufacturer. This means that Zephrex-D will be sold in the same manner that Sudafed and other over-the-counter pseudoephedrine meds are sold. Zephrex-D was a lie - now you know the truth. - WKS

As a crime reporter and community news editor, I know the impact of meth. I’ve seen the fires, the assaults, and the extreme physical/mental/financial impact of a drug decimating the Show-Me-State and my hometown. For the last decade, I’ve been involved in producing stories on meth. Recently, I’ve reported on the push to pass legislation requiring a prescription to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) cold/allergy medication that contains pseudoephedrine – Sudafed, etc.

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that is basically manufactured by combining ingredients found in Sudafed/Claritin-D, etc. with other chemicals. Most of the large labs have given way to quick and mobile labs that only need a two-liter soda bottle – known as “shake-and-bake.” Either way, meth labs need large quantities of OTC meds containing pseudoephedrine – a very popular OTC drug in allergy-ridden Missouri.

Across eastern Missouri, the tireless anti-meth lab crusader Jason Grellner has persuaded many small communities to pass “prescription-only laws.” Grellner is a narcotics officer from Franklin County. His mission is to eradicate meth labs. On its face, that’s a noble cause. For Grellner, it’s been a tough slog asking lawmakers to erode the personal liberties of constituents, to take away the right to buy over-the-counter medicine that has been cheap and legal for years. Despite overwhelming odds, Grellner has the uncanny ability to convince aldermen to go against constituent desire and data that says prescription-only laws have no measurable impact.

In fact, the Sullivan Journal looked at local, county, and Missouri State Highway Patrol meth lab data for the last five years. In the vast majority of areas where prescription-only laws were passed, meth lab busts actually went up. In Sullivan, where a prescription-only law was passed in Dec. 2010 (after being defeated in 2009), meth lab busts have doubled each year since passage. Ditto that for Jefferson County and most of the Missouri municipalities with prescription-only laws.

Even the DEA has publicly stated that the laws will have no impact on the flow and or availability of meth. In fact, the DEA stated in a recent Associated Press story that St. Louis is already seeing an influx of meth from Mexico, despite any attempts to regulate Sudafed-type drugs. It’s about use, not meth labs. Treating the user is key, reports several large meth studies. Prescription-only laws do not target meth use.

But that doesn’t deter Grellner and others like him. Despite an overwhelming public aversion to taking Sudafed-type drugs off the shelf (Sullivan Journal’s unscientific survey was 90% against prescription laws), Grellner continues to push an agenda that is rife with outright deception. And now he has an ally.

Zephrex-D is a new over-the-counter cold/allergy medicine that contains pseudoephedrine. The manufacturer, St. Louis-based Highland Pharmaceuticals LLC, claims Zephrex-D cannot be used to make meth. It’s on sale at various retail locations across the St. Louis area, including some Walgreens and a few Wal-Mart stores, among others. Highland, along with Grellner, claims that Zephrex-D is the answer to all of our meth lab problems. In fact, some reporters are telling their readers that it’s on store shelves now. But there’s a problem.

That’s not exactly true. Zephrex-D needs approval by the DEA. Known as an “exception,” the DEA must grant Zephrex-D approval to sell the drug as an OTC product where prescription-only laws exist. Also, any municipality with a prescription-only law must ALSO grant exceptions to their respective laws. In other words, Zephrex-D is currently sitting on the same shelf as Sudafed, Claritin-D, and all other pseudoephedrine cold/allergy medications. Furthermore, purchases of Zephrex-D are being tracked in the same system as Sudafed and all other pseudoephedrine OTC meds. Missouri already tracks pseudoephedrine sales. Tracking was the original solution that Grellner wanted – and received. Now the slippery slope continues.

The Suburban Journal newspaper that covers Fenton, Mo. – a St. Louis County municipality engaged in a heated debate over a prescription-only bill – recently fell under the spell of a Fenton alderman’s pro-Zephrex-D pitch. The reporter stated that, “…Zephrex-D is sold over the counter and does not require a doctor’s prescription.” He went on to quote the bill’s sponsor, Alderman Chris Clauss, as stating, “Consumers now have a choice and don’t need a doctor’s prescription.” Yes, until a prescription-only bill is passed, that’s true – and then Zephrex-D and the rest of the OTC meds will need a doctor’s blessing.

The Feb. 5, 2013 article comes on the heels of another attempt to advance a prescription bill in the Fenton aldermanic chamber. Like many Missouri municipalities, Fenton aldermen have already defeated the prescription bill because constituents don’t want the inconvenience, the extra costs and time associated with doctor visits, and the loss of liberty. Municipal lawmakers have also resisted passing a bill that may provide an unfair business advantage to Highland Pharmaceutical, if indeed Zephrex-D is granted DEA exception status. The DEA will not comment on the status of pending applications.

Grellner is tireless in his support of Zephrex-D and prescription-only laws. Not long ago, Grellner stated that Zephrex-D was just months away from getting DEA approval. I’m not sure how he would know that, since the DEA states that application and testing data is confidential and not for public knowledge. Grellner recently backed off any Zephrex-D timeline claims. For me, that’s a red flag.

Zephrex-D may or may not be a panacea for meth-lab issues. From my learned view, I don’t think so. Prescription laws have been a failure in my community – that’s fact supported by data. The local Wal-Mart does not carry Zephrex-D and I am told has no current interest in doing so. The current tracking system, pharmacists and police tell me, is effective.

When media matters, we need to report the truth. The Suburban Journals, along with its parent the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, continue to erroneously report the impact of prescription-only laws. Even worse, Highland Pharmaceuticals is engaged in deceiving the public about Zephrex-D.

On the company website, a non-bylined “news story” claims that “…Zephrex-D is an integral part of a comprehensive solution to help end meth labs and meth-related crime in our local communities, throughout Missouri and ultimately, across our country.” That’s great PR writing, but the truth is that users, not meth producers, commit the vast majority of meth-related crime. Drug manufacturers and dealers don’t break into your home, or your car – it’s the users looking for drug money.

The story also claims that, “Some local ordinances require prescriptions to purchase pseudoephedrine products, but Zephrex-D has been exempted from the prescription requirement in several instances.” Yes, and those local exemptions mean absolutely zero without the DEA exception. Zephrex-D does not have a DEA exemption/exception. Like the push to pass municipal prescription laws, there remains a level of dishonesty that should raise flags for everyone from retailers to lawmakers.

Let’s get the story right, before we try to get it first.

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