Leaders in four area counties announced on Thursday a regional anti-meth drive — pushing simultaneously to require prescriptions for cold and allergy medications containing the key ingredient used to make the illicit drug.
Officials in St. Charles and Franklin counties say they've already lined up enough votes on their governing boards to pass countywide prescription requirements for products with pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed. The measures would apply both in unincorporated areas and cities.
Similar efforts are under way in Lincoln County, where a countywide bill is likely to be introduced next month. Meanwhile, Jefferson County officials are trying first to convince municipalities to enact their own prescription mandates. If that fails, County Executive Ken Waller and Councilwoman Terri Kreitler said, they'll pursue a countywide ordinance.
"If this is going to work, we have to all work together and do the same thing and maybe bring some additional neighbors in," St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said at a news conference in St. Charles.
Notably absent were representatives of St. Louis and St. Louis County. St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley is seriously considering the matter and seeking input from his county's police and health departments, said spokeswoman Kathryn Jamboretz.
"We're one region and this is a really tough issue," Jamboretz said. "We weren't ready to go to the press conference today because a decision hasn't been made."
Aides to Dooley and Steve Stenger, the St. Louis County Council chairman, attended a regional meeting last month on the issue that was organized by St. Charles County Council Chairman Joe Brazil.
Brazil said he tried to invite St. Louis representatives but Aldermanic President Lewis Reed didn't return a phone call. A Reed aide, Harry Kennedy, said Thursday that he was unaware of the call and would check into it.
Ehlmann said passage of a statewide law would be the best approach; such measures have failed repeatedly.
St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer, who in April proposed a prescription law in his county, said that "the status quo is not working" and that the methamphetamine problem was proliferating. He said the county regional drug task force had cleaned up more than 100 meth lab sites so far this year, compared with 90 all of last year.
While supporters of such laws say requiring prescriptions would severely limit the ability of meth producers to obtain pseudoephedrine, critics argue that law-abiding citizens who rely on the cold medications would be inconvenienced unfairly.
Among opponents are the Missouri Pharmacy Association, a lobby group representing pharmaceutical firms and the St. Louis chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Joy Krieger, executive director of the chapter, said local government shouldn't make it difficult to obtain products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"They're safe to use, they should be allowed over the counter," she said.
She added that a new statewide computer database tracking pseudoephedrine sales should be given more time to work.
Sgt. Jason Grellner of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, a leading anti-meth crusader, says the database is ineffective. He said also that a current state law limiting how many cold pills a person can buy per month hadn't kept them from meth makers.
Officials say the meth problem affects many innocent people, citing the danger of fires and chemical pollution from meth labs and the growing cost of cleanups.
Brazil said six of the seven St. Charles County Council members now support the measure, which will be formally introduced Monday and come up for passage later this month. Neer proposed it with Councilman Jerry Daugherty.
John Griesheimer, presiding commissioner in Franklin County, said he expected his three-member commission to pass its countywide measure next week. Dan Colbert, presiding commissioner in Lincoln County, said that before he brings the issue before the commission there will be a public meeting featuring Grellner on July 20.
Jefferson County already bars pseudoephedrine sales without a prescription in its unincorporated areas.
Statewide, Grellner said 41 cities and counties across Missouri had passed prescription requirements. The most recent to do so in the St. Louis area have been Ellisville and De Soto last month, he said. Wildwood, Eureka, Byrnes Mill and Washington, Mo., are among other area cities with such ordinances.
Grellner says passage of such local laws will help build pressure on the Legislature to act statewide.
Brazil acknowledged that if outer counties require a prescription and St. Louis County doesn't, meth makers could simply move eastward.
"They'll run into St. Louis County like a bunch of cockroaches," he said.