If Big Pharma had integrity, all manufacturers would stop making pseudoephedrine cold pills in forms that can be "cooked" into illegal meth, which fuels a narcotics market that ruins vast numbers of addicts, including thousands in West Virginia.
However, major drug firms evidently want to continue reaping giant profits from addicts, so the flood of cookable cold pills and criminal meth labs doesn't end.
Meanwhile, a couple of manufacturers have started making tamper-proof pseudoephedrine pills. Acura Pharmaceuticals of Illinois makes Nexafed, which turns into a worthless gum if drug criminals try to cook it. And Westport Pharmaceuticals of St. Louis makes Zephrex-D, which it calls "a comprehensive solution to help end meth labs and meth-related crime."
Westport has applied for an exemption from the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. If granted, the exemption would let Zephrex-D be sold freely over counters. "Consumers win, retailers win, and 'meth cooks' lose," the company said.
Progress is stirring in West Virginia. First, the 27-store Fruth Pharmacy chain halted sales of cookable pills and sells only Nexafed. Next, Rite Aid, with more than 100 stores in the Mountain State, has dropped pure pseudoephedrine pills. It sells only Zephrex-D and decongestants that combine pseudoephedrine with other medicines. Next, Meds 2 Go Pharmacy in Lincoln County joined the reform.
Fruth, Rite Aid and Meds 2 Go deserve public praise for taking steps that crimp their profits but help lower meth crime and its devastation. All West Virginia pharmacies should follow this noble strategy. We urge them to show integrity and shut off the meth lab operators.
Some legislators and health crusaders say the state still must do more by making pseudoephedrine obtainable only through doctor prescriptions. The Governor's Advisory Council on Substance Abuse made this recommendation last week.
How about this plan: Lawmakers could let Nexafed, Zephrex-D and other tamper-proof pills be sold over the counter, but require prescriptions for harmful versions that supply the criminal meth realm.
Addiction is a blight on West Virginia, damaging families and injuring the economy. Meth is an ugly component of the problem. Police say 460 illicit labs have been found in the state so far this year -- filling jails with ratty-looking meth-cookers. Conscientious leaders should keep working until criminals are driven out of the picture.