PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- City administrator Brent Buerck acknowledges that Perryville came late to the party when it waited to pass an ordinance to require prescriptions for cold and sinus pills that are made up of methamphetamine's main ingredient.
Buerck and others watched as makers of the illicit drug fled communities such as Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Sikeston, Mo., where prescription mandates were already being enforced. Sudafed sales at Walmart's pharmacy had tripled; according to law enforcement, 80 percent was being used to make meth.
The Perryville Board of Aldermen finally took action in late 2011, passing the requirement that already was law in so much of the region.
"The ordinance has worked out for us the way we hoped it would," Buerck said. "At the same time, what held our council up in particular, what we struggled with was the hardship the ordinance would create on some people who really need this medicine and the extra costs a doctor visit would mean for them."
When Perryville city leaders heard about a new decongestant that supposedly couldn't be used to make meth, Buerck said, the board didn't dawdle. And after researching the drug known as Zephrex-D, he said, an emergency amendment is on next week's agenda that will make Perryville one the first Southeast Missouri cities to make it available.
Law enforcement, which has watched Missouri often rank atop the nation for meth-lab seizures, said they are behind Zephrex-D and any effort to cut back on the highly addictive and destructive drug. Highland Pharmaceuticals rolled out Zephrex-D in the St. Louis region late last year. About 400 pharmacies have made it available, said company spokeswoman Emilie Dolan at the company's St. Louis headquarters.
The small company worked for years on a pill that included pseudoephedrine but couldn't be used in meth production, Dolan said. A key to making meth, she said, is crystallization and their product interrupts the process. Rather than crystallizing when heated with the chemicals, Zephrex-D becomes gooey, she said.
"We just want to provide the outlet," she said. "Methamphetamine is such as dangerous and costly drug. At the same time, we don't want to deny access to the consumer. Our goal is to have it out on the front of the counter, like these meds used to be."
Law enforcement has been very supportive, Dolan said. She stood in a field near Washington, Mo., and watched several narcotics officers spend a day trying to make meth from Zephrex-D.
"They couldn't do it," she said. "So they're just thrilled. They're on the front lines. Not only do they see the terrible addiction that meth causes, they're seeing the devastation that these meth labs create."
Shake-and-bake meth is produced by combining raw, unstable ingredients in a 2-liter soda bottle. But if the person mixing the ingredients makes even a slight mistake, the whole works can explode, said Sgt. Kevin Glaser, an agent with the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force and member of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association.
Glaser, whose area includes Cape Girardeau County, said prescription requirements have curbed meth-lab seizures by more than half in the Southeast Missouri communities that have them. He still hears the argument that pseudoephedrine is the only product that works.
"We've been hearing that song and dance since we went after the prescriptions," Glaser said. "It's the same thing we've been hearing about a state law for prescriptions. So this could really help us in the long run."
Federal law requires stores to keep pseudoephedrine products behind the counter and only two states, Mississippi and Oregon, require a prescription. In Missouri, there is no statewide prescription law, but more than 70 cities and communities have adopted their own prescription ordinances.
In Cape Girardeau, city manager Scott Meyer on Tuesday said he has only heard about the drug from others and that no discussions have begun in earnest. But he said the city would be willing to listen to any proposal that held promise.
At the Walmart Pharmacy in Cape Girardeau, pharmacist Dave Robbins said he's heard complaints from cold and allergy sufferers about having to get a prescription since the prescription requirement went into affect.
"I think our customers would be in favor it," Robbins said. "There are a number of people who really need it."