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Pharmacy doing its part in drug battle

West Virginia has an ongoing and frustrating battle to try to keep pseudoephedrine out of the hands of drug addicts who use the key ingredient in decongestant medication to make meth.

Over-the-counter drugs containing pseudoephedrine are placed behind the pharmacy counter and buyers have to ask for it.  West Virginians are limited, by law, in the amount of pseudoephedrine they can buy.  Transactions are recorded in a real-time tracking system to keep buyers from going over the limit.

Still, meth labs pop up around the state like dandelions in May.

More recently, the West Virginia Legislature has debated requiring doctor's prescription for Sudafed, Claritin, Allegra and other over-the-counter allergy medications that contain pseudoephedrine.

But now the pharmaceutical industry believes it has come up with at least a partial solution.

Two new drugs on the market, Nexafed and Zephrex-D, are designed to give the same relief as other decongestants, but they are engineered to make it much more difficult for meth makers to extract the pseudoephedrine.

According to Forbes magazine, "the polymers will form a gummy gel if mixed with solvents commonly used in illicit methamphetamine synthesis."

This week, Fruth Pharmacy, which owns 25 stores in West Virginia and Ohio, announced it is replacing over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine with Nexafed.  Chair and Chief Executive Lynn Fruth says this is their way of addressing the drug issue.

"As a company, we decided we really need to do what's in the best interest of our customers, for the community," Fruth said. "If that means you make a little less money because you are not selling Sudafed to people who are using it illegally, I think we're okay with that."

Fruth isn't alone. CBS News reports that Nexafed is now available in 1,400 pharmacies across the country.  However, that's still only a fraction (2.2 percent) of the total number of pharmacies in the country.

Also, the makers of the supposedly tamper-proof pseudoephedrine know their new drug is no panacea for the meth problem.

"Your average meth cook probably is not trying to figure this out," said Bob Jones, CEO of Acura, the company that makes Nexafed. "But the true innovators in this industry are some very smart chemists. It wouldn't be a surprise if they were already working on this."

Additionally, despite all the news about local meth makers, an estimated 80 percent of the meth in this country comes across the border from Mexico where, by the way, pseudoephedrine has been illegal since 2007.

Ultimately, the problem of illegal drugs always links back to users and their addictions. Without demand, there would be no need for supply.

Still, it's encouraging to see pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies begin to do their part to at least make it more difficult for toxic meth labs to crop up in our neighborhoods.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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