A cramped office in Union, Mo., near St. Louis, is the unlikely nerve center of a 12-state lobbying effort that will square off against one of the most powerful forces in American politics – the pharmaceutical industry, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. In a tiny nook of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, Detective Jason “Jake” Grellner is leading a campaign to cut off the supply of over-the-counter cold pills that have fueled the explosion of methamphetamine production across the nation’s heartland. Grellner has spent much of the last few weeks working with policymakers from across the Midwest. Their goal is to severely restrict sales of pseudoephedrine, the active chemical in scores of decongestants and the backbone of the $3 billion U.S. market for over-the-counter cold remedies.
Grellner recently head a strategy session in St. Louis with about 65 law enforcement leaders, politicians, and legislative aides from as far away as Louisiana and Ohio. They want to pass state legislation in a dozen states next year that would label many pseudoephedrine remedies as “Schedule 5 narcotics” that would be available only at pharmacies and only if shoppers have their purchases and identities recorded in a database that police can access. Police estimate that 99 percent of the meth made in the United States is manufactured using pseudoephedrine pills. Pharmaceutical interests have headed off many restrictions, but there are signs the tide could be turning. Last week, Pfizer Inc. – maker of Sudafed, the leading over-the-counter cold remedy – announced that next month, it would release Sudafed PE, a decongestant sold in Europe. Instead of pseudoephedrine, the drug uses as its active ingredient a chemical called phenylephrine, which can’t be used to make meth. Grellner compares the meth-lab crisis to a serpent. “What we’ve been doing for years is slapping at the snake’s tail with a shovel. We might be fighting it, but it doesn’t do any good,” he said. “But if you cut off the head, the snake dies. It’s that simple.”