Fact check: Cold drug can be made into meth

Boxes of cold medicines behind a counter in Salem, Ore. In 2005, Oregon passed a bill requiring a doctor's prescription for cold and allergy relief medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

Government chemists were able to produce meth out of widely distributed Zephrex-D, and the DEA says its sale must be restricted to behind the counter.

ST. LOUIS — A cold and allergy decongestant available nationwide and containing what the manufacturer says is pseudoephedrine that cannot be used in meth production still won't be sold over the counter, the Drug Enforcement Administration said Tuesday.

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 cannot be made at all 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.

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