The St. Charles County Council took one more step toward requiring prescriptions for cold medication that include ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.
The law, introduced during the council meeting Monday, is part of a four-county effort to make the drugs more difficult to obtain for meth producers. Jefferson, Franklin and Lincoln county officials announced last week they will propose similar laws.
St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer told council members requiring prescriptions for the drugs is the most effective way to keep them away from meth producers and users.
“These people choose to poison their bodies, endanger their children and their neighbors and engage in theft and other crimes to support their habit,” Neer said.
More than 40 counties and cities throughout the state have adopted similar laws, Neer said.
During a work session before their regular meeting, council members watched a 50-minute video report on meth produced by the PBS show Frontline.
Joy Krieger, executive director for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, St. Louis Chapter, told council members that ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is the preferred medication to treat sinus or colds for those who have asthma.
“People with asthma can’t use antihistamines because they enlarge tissue,” Krieger said. “Asthma patients already have trouble breathing due to swollen tissue.”
“If the state of Missouri, our legislators, decided not to do this, shouldn’t we allow them to represent us and not do this on a regional basis?” Krieger asked.
Council President Joe Brazil, R-2nd District, said the county is acting on its responsibility to protect citizens’ health.
“We’re not affected by the lobbyists as they are at the state level,” Brazil said. “We’re here dealing with the problem.”
Sgt. Jason Grellner of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department said a huge issue is that meth producers often have labs in their homes and expose their children to the toxic substance.
“These kids expose the kids next to them on the school bus and in school,” he said. As it’s cooked, the meth goes into the air, onto children, their clothes and air ducts. They in turn expose children on school buses or in class.
Property owners are at risk, whether they’re near a meth lab or buying a home, Grellner said. Meth labs have a high risk of explosion or fire. Some people unsuspectingly buy homes that contained meth labs and become ill.
Grellner said his parents considered buying a Lake Saint Louis home until the neighbors told them it had housed a meth lab.
Wait for e-tracking
Jim Moody, a registered lobbyist from Consumer Healthcare Products in Jefferson City, told that officials should wait for Missouri’s electronic tracking system to work.
“E-tracking is stopping 3.3 percent of all attempted sales,” Moody told council members. “It is a stop-sales system. If you go to Walmart and buy your limit, walk out and go to Target (and attempt to buy more pseudophed) it will stop you.”
Grellner said meth labs are increasing “exponentially throughout the United States,” even in states with e-tracking systems such as Missouri. Tennessee has an e-tracking system, but meth labs have increased 40 percent there, he said.
“Meth labs in Missouri have increased only 11 percent because one-third of all pharmacies in our state already require prescriptions,” he said.
Robert Bergamini, a pediatric oncologist at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, said patient access the medication is a nonissue. Other sinus medications are available and getting prescriptions will be easy, he said.
“If you have an established relationship with a primary care physician, you can get a one-month, three-month or even a year’s prescription that’s easily renewable with a phone call,” Bergamini said.
“That’s not the world I live in,” Moody said. Most physicians require an office visit before prescribing medication, he said.
Chilling on gelcaps?
County Councilman Joe said he is researching an amendment to exempt gelcaps and liquids that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. He said the state bill proposed last session had such a provision.
“Why should we pass something more stringent than the state level?” Cronin asked.
He said he wanted to give as much access to the medication as possible—especially for those without health insurance—while closing down meth labs.
Grellner said there aren’t many meth labs that use gelcaps or liquids, but producers will adapt. Lawmakers compromised on the gelcap provision in order to gain votes in the House, he said.
Cronin said the state law would have allowed the state health director to require prescriptions for gelcaps and liquids if they became a problem. The county law could have a similar provision, he said.
The council likely will vote on the bill at its July 25 meeting.