Meth-Fighting Missouri Pseudoephedrine Ban Could Face Filibuster

Sudafed shouldn't need a 'scrip, says State Senator Rob Schaaf.
Sudafed shouldn't need a 'scrip, says State Senator Rob Schaaf.
In hopes of combating the state's never-ending meth problem, state legislators have been pushing a bill to make cold medicines that include pseudoephedrine available by prescription only.

That would include Sudafed, Claritin and a host of other over-the-counter products currently used by cold and allergy sufferers, no doctors' visit necessary. In a previous effort to deal with the meth scourge, those products were moved behind the pharmacy counter and customers were required to sign a log registering their purchases.

Savvy meth cooks, not surprisingly, found a way around the registries (see this link for one example of their pill-brokerage techniques), so law enforcement has been pushing to make pseudoephedrine products prescription only. The Meth Lab Elimination Act, H.B. 658, has drawn bipartisan support.

But the bill could also be in trouble.

State Senator Rob Schaaf, a Republican from northwest Missouri, tells the St. Joseph News-Press that he's dead-set against the house bill -- and that he'll resort to a filibuster, if need be, to stop it in the Missouri Senate.

As Schaaf told the News-Press,

Pseudoephedrine is one of the best and safest drugs used to treat allergies and colds, and that it doesn't make sense to force patients to make costly office visits, which also takes "valuable time away from medical professionals to get something as simple as pseudoephedrine." But it also amounts to a freedom issue, he said."The need to make it a prescription drug does not rise to the level of decreasing our freedom," said Dr. Schaaf.

While we're sure this will earn us no praise from law-enforcement officials, who have their hands full trying to stop home-grown meth labs (and even on-the-go meth labs using the new shake-and-bake method first detailed in the RFT), we're actually inclined to agree with Schaaf here.

First of all, desperate as they are to stay high, meth users tend to find a way around any barrier put up by well-meaning governments and law enforcement agencies. Secondly, it is a huge pain in the neck to get in to see your family doctor -- or even an urgent care physician -- these days. We've found ourselves in germ-ridden waiting rooms, missing half a day of work and putting down our $40 co-pay, just to get our Z-Pac. Should it be that difficult to get Sudafed?

For the record, back during our time in Arizona, we were assured by law enforcement hoping to crack down on pseudoephedrine there that an over-the-counter alternative existed that couldn't be converted to meth and actually worked just as well to stop our sickness. Alas, no. As our story "Bad Medicine" showed, phenylephrine -- the stuff in Sudafed PE, Tylenol PE and all the other tweaker-proof products drug companies created to get around the pseudoephedrine ban -- works no better than a placebo in relieving your cold symptoms.

Indeed, we've been able to subsequently confirm the ineffectiveness of PE-based products during this year's St. Louis cold season. They really don't work very well at all. And yet if the Meth Lab Elimination Act gets passed, they'll be one of the few cold medicines your local drug stores will be allowed to sell you unless you see a doctor first.

Is it still worth it, if we could stop people from making meth? Well, maybe. (Oregon put a similar prescription-based law in place in 2006, the first in the nation, and has reported a dramatic decline in meth labs.) But does anyone believe Missouri's meth addicts will simply give up their jones if pseudoephedrine becomes prescription only? They call this Methland for a reason. Much as we'd like to believe this is the panacea the state needs, we have to suspect it would only lead to a dramatic increase in prescription fraud.

Incidentally, we have a call out to Schaaf. We'll report more on his threatened filibuster if we hear back.

About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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