ST. LOUIS - A cold and allergy decongestant now being sold nationwide contains a new form of pseudoephedrine that's being billed as difficult to use to make methamphetamine, but the Drug Enforcement Administration said Tuesday that it still won't allow it to be sold over the counter.
Government chemists were able to make meth from Zephrex-D, and its sale must therefore be restricted, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said.
Zephrex-D has been sold in Missouri since December and the suburban St. Louis company Westport Pharmaceuticals has rolled the product out to more than 15,000 pharmacies in all 50 states over the past month.
Westport officials say meth can't be made with Zephrex-D through the so-called "one-pot" or "shake-and-bake" method in which the ingredients are mixed together in a soda bottle. The vast majority of homemade meth is now produced this way. The Missouri Narcotics Officers Association said it has not found the product in any meth labs.
Pseudoephedrine is a vital precursor for most meth recipes. The key to making meth with pseudoephedrine is crystallization. Westport officials say the pseudoephedrine in Zephrex-D, when heated, becomes a gooey substance rather than crystallizing.
Westport concedes that meth in very small quantities can be extracted from Zephrex-D through old-style meth labs, but so little that a single dose would cost $250 to $500 — or up to 20 times the street value.
"It's just not economically feasible for the meth-maker to use this product," said Jason Grellner, narcotics enforcement commander in Franklin County, Mo., who has spoken to the Missouri Legislature on behalf of Westport Pharmaceuticals.
The U.S. Combat Meth Act requires that pseudoephedrine products be sold behind the counter. Buyers must show identification and their names are entered into a tracking database. Two states — Oregon and Mississippi — require prescriptions, as do more than 70 cities and counties in Missouri.
The DEA said sales of Zephrex-D must remain restricted to behind the counter.
"DEA commends the efforts of companies to develop products that deter the production of illicit drugs," Payne said in a statement. "While this particular company claims that their 'drug delivery system provides a new and unconventional approach to combat drug misuse,' this product can still be utilized to manufacture methamphetamine."
Westport chose Missouri for the test run in part because the company is based there, but also because the state has led the nation in meth lab seizures in all but one year since 2003.
"We have a great product for legitimate sinus and cold sufferers, but meth-making criminals will have to look elsewhere," Paul Hemings, vice-president and general manager of Westport Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement.