Published: 7/17/2009 | Updated: 7/24/2009
By RODNEY HART
Quincy Herald-Whig Staff Writer
In the face of a never-ending methamphetamine lab problem, some local Missouri governments are requiring consumers to obtain prescriptions to buy certain cold and allergy medications.
The city of Washington became the first in the country to require a prescription for purchases of over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine, meth's main ingredient. Jefferson County, which has long led the state in meth labs, is planning similar legislation.
"I think it's a very good idea," says Capt. Tim Forney, head of the Northeast Missouri Drug Task Force. "But I'd like to see a nationwide effort. It would probably push it out of that community, but the people buying pills, they'd just go somewhere else."
Forney says his officers continue to find meth labs. There have been 462 meth labs seized in Missouri this year as of June 1, including 10 in Marion County and seven in Ralls County, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol statistics. There were 19 in Marion County all of last year and 23 in Ralls County. More than 1,400 meth labs were seized in the state last year.
Getting a federal law passed requiring a prescription is admittedly a longshot. Even Forney agrees it would make getting medicine for a simple cold a hassle.
"I can see the opposition to it. If I had a cold, I wouldn't want to have to go see a doctor," Forney said.
Drug companies which make pseudoephedrine have powerful government lobbies, as well.
Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his group has asked Washington to repeal the ordinance and is considering legal action if it doesn't.
"It sets a dangerous precedent," he said. "Here it's just allergies, but next time it could be something more, like birth control."
Rothert thinks the ordinance conflicts with state and federal law, which consider pseudoephedrine products, such as Sudafed and Claritin D, safe enough to use without a prescription. Because of that, Rothert said, the ordinance would not pass legal muster.
Declaring pseudoephedrine a controlled substance, making it illegal to possess without a prescription, is a move only state and federal governments can make.
Oregon is the only state with such a law. It took effect in July 2006, and police ended that year with 63 meth labs busts. Two years later, they had only 18.
Other states like California and Missouri have taken notice. Missouri requires people buying more than nine grams of products with pseudoephedrine to sign for the pills, which are locked in a cabinet at drug stores.