Drug investigators in southwest Missouri say they have broken up an elaborate crime ring devised to divert bulk quantities of over-the-counter cold pills to illegal methamphetamine labs, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On Wednesday, federal authorities in Springfield, Mo., unsealed drug, weapons and money-laundering indictments against 38 suspects, including at least nine store owners and two wholesale distributors. Nick Console of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Springfield, called the indictments “the first of their kind in the nation” and said the operation will provide a road map for drug investigators elsewhere.
The case points to the growing illegal diversion of pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in more than 80 over-the-counter cold remedies and an essential ingredient in most meth recipes. Missouri leads the nation in raids on meth labs and meth-related dumpsites.
In Missouri, it’s illegal for retailers to sell more than two boxes of the pills to an individual, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan proposed similar legislation this week. On Monday, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry is scheduled to sign the nation’s toughest restrictions on pseudoephedrine. The legislation would label most pseudoephedrine cold pills “scheduled” narcotics, sold only at pharmacies and only if customers agree to have their purchases and identities recorded in a statewide database.
The federal indictments result from a two-year investigation called Operation Ice Palace. (Ice is a street term for meth.)