Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney not in favor of prescriptions for pseudoephedrine

Monday, November 15, 2010

If the Cape Girardeau City Council gives preliminary approval tonight to an ordinance that would require a prescription to get pseudoephedrine, it will do so without the support of one of the county's top law enforcement officials.

"Personally, I don't like the idea," said Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle. "I hate to see this happening."

Pseudoephedrine is the key ingredient to the highly addictive and illegal drug methamphetamine. As prosecutor, Swingle is the one responsible for seeing to it that those who misuse the popular decongestant to make meth are punished.

Swingle realizes his position is not popular among this peers.

"I'm in the minority in law enforcement who feel this way, but I am not in favor of it," Swingle said.

Swingle has his reasons. In fact, his main objection isn't even law-enforcement related. Swingle believes requiring a prescription for the pills, commonly found in decongestants like Sudafed and Claritin D, would create a financial hardship on people who suffer from colds and allergies, especially those who are uninsured.

Requiring consumers to obtain a prescription to buy those products would cause substantial and unnecessary new costs on those who need the medicine, he said. They would have to take time off to see a doctor to get a prescription, even though these products are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for nonprescription use.

The customers would then have a fork over money for their doctor visit and pay prescription prices, Swingle said.

Aside from that, Swingle, who has been prosecuting attorney for Cape Girardeau County since 1987, questions how effective the ordinance would be on curbing the manufacturer of meth.

"I understand the intent is to make it harder on the methamphetamine manufacturers," Swingle said. "But I think they will find the medicine to make it anyway. They'll find people to get prescriptions or get them themselves. I don't think this will stop it."

Instead, Swingle favors the new database that will allow pharmacists and law enforcement to determine whether a buyer has gone from store to store buying large amounts of pseudoephedrine. The system also would send an alert to police about an attempted illegal purchase.

The system will allow people who legitimately need the cold medicine to purchase it but will block sales to people trying to make methamphetamine, Swingle said.

"It's an instantaneous tracking system," Swingle said. "It happens at the point of sale."

Still, the council at its meeting tonight is scheduled to take a first look at the ordinance that many Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force officers and every Cape Girardeau pharmacy favor. The ordinance, as written, would require people seeking pseudoephedrine to obtain a prescription from a doctor. Currently, it is sold from behind the counter and requires a pharmacy log documenting the purchase and identification from the customer.

If the ordinance is approved tonight, the council will make a final decision at its Dec. 6 meeting. If approved then, the law would take effect 10 days later.

Council members were initially opposed to the ordinance, for the reasons Swingle cites, but the proliferation of meth lab busts in Southeast Missouri has pressured them into rethinking their stance. Missouri is set to lead the country for the 10th straight year for meth lab seizures, and database tracking statistics recently revealed that Walgreens in Cape Girardeau sells more pseudoephedrine than anywhere else in the state.

"Things have changed since we first looked at it," Mayor Harry Rediger said. Other cities have passed similar ordinances so meth makers can't get pseudoephedrine, he said, "so they're coming here."

Rediger echoed some of Swingle's concerns about what the ordinance would mean to people who really need the medicine. But the problem has become so widespread, Rediger said, that he's ready to vote for the ordinance.

Council member Loretta Schneider agreed.

"After we got all the information, there just isn't any way around it," she said. "I wish we didn't have to do it, but we do."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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