Pharmacies look to help in fight against meth labs

PARKERSBURG- Pharmacies are looking to replace medications containing Pseudoephedrine, a prime ingredient in the making of methamphetamines, with something that is more resistant to being turned into the addictive drug.

Fruth Pharmacy, which has stores in Mineral Wells and Belpre, recently announced it has been stocking shelves with a new product known as Nexafed.

Medications with 30 mg of Pseudoephedrine (PSE) will be replaced with other mg amounts as soon as possible, company officials said.

Nexafed delivers the same efficacy as other leading PSE products-such as Sudafed-by temporarily relieving nasal congestion due to the common cold, hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies, officials said.

However, Nexafed does even more. Patented Impede technology disrupts the extraction and conversion of PSE to meth, the company said.

The tablet contains the active ingredient Pseudoephedrine, similar to the popular brand-name allergy drug Sudafed. However, if an abuser tries to extract the Pseudoephedrine out of Nexafed to make meth, it breaks down into a thick gel that thwarts production, the company said.

The company is taking this step as a means to combat the growing meth problem throughout the region.

“The statistics for meth labs in West Virginia alone are staggering,” said Tim Weber, director of pharmacy administration and procurement for Fruth Pharmacy. “If there’s a way to stop people from using medications sold in our pharmacies to produce meth, then we are interested.”

Melanie Sherman, spokesman for Fruth, said she believes the changeover is mostly complete at the 27 locations across West Virginia and Ohio.

Recent legislation has put limits on the amount of PSE products people can buy and implemented an electronic monitoring system, which tracks purchases and allows pharmacies to know whether an individual has recently purchased PSE.

Fruth officials said if a pharmacy sells 10 boxes of PSE products, this potentially yields 77 grams of meth. This could cost a community an estimated $37,681 in cleanup costs.

If every pharmacy in the state sold 10 boxes of PSE products that were used in meth production, it is estimated the state would pay $24,040,872 in meth cleanup costs, they said.

Fruth will continue to stock other Pseudoephedrine products that offer different dosages than Nexafed.

Meth production has been a big problem in West Virginia. Statewide, authorities have seized more than 300 meth labs since January.

Other pharmacies are looking to get products with Nexafed.

Tim Bond of Bond’s Drug Store in Lubeck said the business was aware of Nexafed, but its distributor does not have it in stock. When it does, Bond said the store will be looking at carrying it.

”We are planning to use it when it becomes available,” he said. ”When they have it, we will.”

Bond’s requires an ID for people getting prescriptions and is tied into the computer system that tracks PSE purchases. The business also moved other products like iodine, which has been shoplifted, to the pharmacy.

Bond’s is aware of the signs shown by people looking for the ingredients to make illegal drugs, Bond said.

”We know who we are selling to,” Bond said.

In Parkersburg, law-enforcement officials have talked about how as a result of laws being passed, large-scale meth production is down; however, it has seen the rise in “shake and bake” operations.

”We are once again inundated with meth labs here in the valley,” said Sgt. Greg Collins with the Parkersburg Police Department. ”The ‘shake and bake’ meth labs are much easier to operate and have far less restrictions than the other cooking methods.

”They also take much less Pseudoephedrine per cook. This relative ease has inspired many addicts to take up cooking the product for themselves. You can literally cook meth anywhere now.”

Collins praised the pharmacies that are making this switch.

”I imagine they made this decision understanding that they may lose some customers who want the more traditional Sudafed brand,” he said. ”But in the end, it is a decision that is far better for the community as a whole.

”If we were able to put a dollar amount on the damage meth production has caused the Mid-Ohio Valley over the last 15 years, I’m certain it would be an unbelievable figure,” Collins said.

Nexafed can provide relief to legitimate patients, but at the same time, nearly eliminates the possible extraction of Pseudoephedrine for use in methamphetamine production, Collins said. It will have far-reaching benefits for both the public and law enforcement, he said.

”It’s my understanding that the sale of this product will be tracked by the state the same as Sudafed is now, which is good,” Collins said.

Officials with CVS Pharmacies could not be reached Tuesday for comment. Officials with Rite Aid Pharmacies said they would be releasing a statement today.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)