Years ago, Oklahoma lawmakers voted to require that all pseudoephedrine products be placed behind the counter, to limit methamphetamine cooks' access to the product. Strict limits were placed on the amount any one person could buy each month. Proponents argued that consumer restrictions were necessary to reduce meth crime in Oklahoma.
The plan worked — but only for a time. Eventually, meth cooks found ways to circumvent sales limits and also developed a “shake and bake” method to create the drug without large amounts of pseudoephedrine. The number of meth labs in Oklahoma surged.
In response, lawmakers debated (and ultimately rejected) a plan to require a prescription for any pseudoephedrine product. We were among those skeptical of the proposal, which seemed to put an increased burden on law-abiding citizens with allergies without any guarantee of significant impact on meth crime.
As proponents of the behind-the-counter plan learned, criminals are good at innovation. Creativity, though, isn't a one-way street. Nor is it the exclusive domain of meth cooks. This can be seen in the development of a new pseudoephedrine-based medicine for allergies that can't be used to make meth, according to its manufacturer.
Zephrex-D, a product of Westport Pharmaceuticals, recently went on sale in Oklahoma. The Missouri Narcotics Officers Association reportedly tested Zephrex-D to see if could be used to make meth using the “shake-and-bake” process. Couldn't be done.
The product is competitively priced. Time will tell if consumers find it as effective as other pseudoephedrine products. Still, it's encouraging that the market is responding to demand for effective allergy medicines that can't be used for meth production.
Paul Hemings, a Westport vice president, said Zephrex-D is meant “to end meth labs across America” without inconveniencing consumers. Oklahoma lawmakers should have the same goal when debating future anti-meth legislation.