Pseudoephedrine Ban Pushed in Four Missouri Counties

Jul 8, 2011 at 10:30 am
Sudafed could become presciption-only in four Missouri counties.
Sudafed could become presciption-only in four Missouri counties.
Feeling sniffly? If you live in St. Charles or Franklin county, before you get your hands on some Sudafed, you could soon be required to see your doctor and get a prescription first.

County officials there tell the St. Louis Post-Dispatch they have enough votes to pass a ban on pseudoephedrine unless customers have a prescription from their physician. Similar efforts are underway in Lincoln and Jefferson counties, too.

In addition to being the most effective decongestant on the market, pseudoephedrine is also a key ingredient in the home-made crystal meth so popular in Missourah. Law enforcement officers have been pushing for a law statewide that would make pseudoephedrine a controlled substance -- and therefore available by prescription only.

But despite backing from Governor Jay Nixon, and passage in the Missouri House, the state Senate balked. At least one senator, Republican Rob Schaaf, vowed to fillibuster rather than allow the measure to go to a vote.

In light of the counties' willingness to take the action that the state refused, it's worth remembering some of the key arguments made by Schaaf, who in addition to being a politician, is a part-time family physician.

As we reported in March,

by making Sudafed and other pseudoephedrine-based products "a controlled substance" under the law, that moves them into a class of drug where many physicians would be reluctant to prescribe them over the phone for sick patients. (Penicillin, for example, is not a controlled substance, so even though customers need a prescription to get it, their family doctor is usually willing to call in the 'scrip without an office visit. Not so with how the proposed law would treat pseudoephedrine.)

"You can get away with calling in a controlled substance from time to time," Schaaf says, "but the state board takes a dim view of physicians not seeing people who get a prescription for controlled substances." During flu season, he predicts, doctors' offices would be packed with sick people, waiting to see an MD just to get their hands on medication that is now widely available.

"Insurance premiums will go up," he predicts. "It will cost the state. Do you think doctors are going to call in prescriptions for Medicare patients without seeing them first?"

We're not saying meth isn't a problem in Lincoln County, or St. Charles, or Franklin, or Jefferson. But we are suggesting that maybe our county officials might want to think this through.

Does making a drug prescription-only really take it out of the hands of people who would abuse it? And is the benefit here really worth the cost?

(For what it's worth, Daily RFT's uberblogger, Chad Garrison, has a much different take than your humble fill-in correspondent. He's on vacation, but he's back next Monday. So if this position seems reprehensible, well, give us the weekend: This blog may officially change its mind soon.)