Missouri's New Growth Industry: Pill Brokers

Hot new career opportunity: Popping blister packs in your car.
Hot new career opportunity: Popping blister packs in your car.

Unemployment got you down? There's a hot new career opportunity in Missouri -- and all it takes is a little initiative and a tiny amount of overhead.

Enough overhead, that is, to buy cold medicine.

As the AP reports in a story out today, Missouri enacted tough new laws in 2006, requiring that sales of pseudoephedrine be tracked by computer. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in medication like Sudafed -- but it's also a key ingredient in crystal meth. The tracking was supposed to stop home-grown meth cooks from buying the stuff for their own illicit ends.

But tweakers aren't known for giving up easily. And law enforcement sources tell the AP that a lucrative business has sprung up, one in which "pill brokers" go from store to store, buying as much cold medicine as is legally allowed.

Eventually, they get enough pills to sell to meth cooks for a tidy profit, the AP reports.

"It's almost like a sub-criminal culture," said Gary Boggs, an agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration. "You'll see them with a GPS unit set up in a van with a list of every single pharmacy or retail outlet. They'll spend the entire week going store to store and buy to the limit."

Inside their vehicles, the so-called "pill brokers" punch out blister packs into a bucket and even clip coupons, Boggs said.

In some cases, the pill buyers are not interested in meth. They may be homeless people recruited off the street or even college kids seeking weekend beer money, authorities say.

But because of booming demand created in large part by the tracking systems, they can buy a box of pills for $7 to $8 and sell it for $40 or $50.

Holy smokes, Batman -- that's more than a 600 percent profit! Can you blame us for imagining this might be the solution to the state's unemployment woes?

As for the solution to the state's meth problem -- well, some law enforcement types, as well as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, are now calling for the state to make pseudoephedrine available only to customers with a valid prescription. But we're not counting the meth cooks out. These guys, sadly, seem to have more ingenuity and hustle than the collective work force of Missouri and Illinois combined.

About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of the RFT and its sister papers. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and continues to host its Legal Roundtable, as well participating as an occasional panelist on Nine PBS' Donnybrook. She lives in St. Louis.
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