Missouri city passes ordinance requiring prescription for cold medication

Monday, July 13, 2009 | 5:24 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Local governments in Missouri are trying new ways to combat the state's methamphetamine problem, but a civil liberties group calls one of the plans a bad precedent.

A city outside St. Louis has begun requiring a prescription for certain cold and allergy medications, and others may follow, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday.

Last week, the Washington City Council became the first local government in the country to require a prescription for purchases of over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine, meth's main ingredient, according to the newspaper. Officials in neighboring Union said they plan to consider a prescription ordinance next month.

Jefferson County Executive Chuck Banks said he also plans to propose a similar ordinance at a county committee meeting Tuesday. Jefferson County has long led the state in meth labs.

"It's as plain as the nose on your face how to solve this issue," Banks said. "Hopefully every county in the state will do this and get some immediate results, so they can take it to the state Legislature and show that it works and that we can take Missouri out of the meth manufacturing business completely."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri has asked Washington to repeal the ordinance and said it may pursue legal action if it doesn't.

"It sets a dangerous precedent," ACLU legal director Tony Rothert said. "Here it's just allergies, but next time it could be something more, like birth control."

Rothert thinks the ordinance conflicts with state and federal law, which consider pseudoephedrine products, such as Sudafed and Claritin D, safe enough to use without a prescription.

However, the Missouri Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs thinks the ordinance is OK.

"As long as it's more restrictive than state and federal laws, and they're able to pass it, the city has the authority to do this," said Dean Linneman, section administrator for the Department of Health and Senior Services Health Standards and Licensure division, which oversees the bureau.

Declaring pseudoephedrine a controlled substance — which would make it illegal to possess without a prescription — is a move only state and federal governments can make.

So far, the only state to do so is Oregon, where meth lab busts have decreased since its law took effect in July 2006.

In Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma, the number of meth lab busts rose because police could track them more easily from new statewide databases of pseudoephedrine products.

Meth makers throughout the country have organized highly sophisticated networks of people who go from store to store to buy small amounts of pseudoephedrine products in exchange for money or drugs.

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