St. Louis company Westport Pharmaceuticals says it has an innovative solution to a key problem contributing to Missouri's meth epidemic. The Drug Enforcement Administration, however, is not so confident.
As we reported earlier this week, the DEA sent a letter to the Maryland Heights business warning that its nasal decongestant called Zephrex-D can be used to cook meth. The DEA says its chemists were able to make methamphetamine hydrochloride from the sinus medicine -- and says this is a problem, given that Westport is marketing Zephrex-D as meth-resistant.
The company has since offered Daily RFT a response to the DEA's claims and is arguing that it is "impractical and nearly impossible to illicitly manufacture methamphetamine with Zephrex-D."
So is the sinus medicine really a potential meth ingredient?
At this stage, it appears that the DEA and Westport Pharmaceuticals have different answers.
Given Missouri's stronghold as Meth Capital of the United States, it's an intriguing debate.
Law enforcement and government officials have tried to develop ways to make it more difficult for meth cooks to access ingredients over the counter at pharmacies -- and Westport got attention last year for saying it had invented an effective sinus medicine that could not be used in meth labs.
Just a few days after news broke about the DEA's letter this week, Westport sent out a news release titled "A New Approach To Fighting Illicit Meth Labs."
The announcement includes "findings from independent testing of their meth-resistant pseudoephedrine product, Zephrex-D," the company says.
Based on those results, the company says:
This formulation of pseudoephedrine provides a major advancement in the scientific community's ability to effectively "'lock" this precursor, therefore, making it impractical and nearly impossible to illicitly manufacture methamphetamine with Zephrex-D.
"It is very unique and we are fully confident in the product," Emilie Dolan, director of marketing and media relations for Westport Pharmaceuticals, tells Daily RFT. "We know that we have the ability to impact the illicit meth making trade tremendously."
The news release says that more than 87 percent of domestic meth labs utilize what is called the "one pot meth-making method" and argues that meth cannot be produced from Zephrex-D using this highly popular option.
Furthermore, the company says that "more traditional meth-making methods, which utilize an extraction to conversion two-step process, have proven to be impractical using Zephrex-D."
In laboratory tests of Zephrex-D, traditional manufacturing methods converted less than one half of one percent of the pseudoephedrine into meth, the company says. And even with more advanced methods, the yield was reportedly less than two percent -- an amount too small to smoke, inject or snort.
"We're all working together to try and come up with a solution," Dolan tells us.
She says that the DEA's message was unexpected and that the company has had a good relationship with the agency during this process.
"That letter did come as somewhat of a surprise," she says.
Part of the dispute concerns whether Zephrex-D can get exemptions from certain regulations given that, according to the company, it can't be used for meth. The DEA has not granted Westport any exemptions yet -- but Dolan says she hopes the agency eventually does.
Continue for more from Westport Pharmaceuticals and for the full DEA letter.