DEA disagrees with firm’s meth-resistant claims

Posted at: 05/28/2013 7:06 PM
By JIM SALTER

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(AP) ST. LOUIS - The Drug Enforcement Administration says a suburban St. Louis pharmaceutical company is wrong for marketing its pseudoephedrine product to imply methamphetamine cannot be made with it.

Westport Pharmaceuticals, however, is standing by its meth-resistant claims, insisting that it would be impractical to make the dangerous drug with its Zephrex-D even if small amounts of meth can be extracted from it.

James Shroba, the DEA’s acting special agent in charge of the St. Louis office, sent Westport Pharmaceuticals a letter dated May 6 that called the Maryland Heights, Mo., company out on its marketing of the cold and allergy medication. Shroba said claims that Zephrex-D is meth-resistant are wrong since DEA chemists were, in fact, able to make meth from it.

Westport Pharmaceuticals began selling Zephrex-D last year, claiming it was the first to come up with a form of pseudoephedrine that couldn’t be used in meth production.

Shroba wrote that the meth-resistant claims in Westport’s corporate literature and on the Zephrex-D website "are inconsistent with the results of extraction tests" conducted by DEA’s Office of Forensic Sciences. His letter stopped short of demanding that the company discontinue the marketing claims, though Shroba said he planned to make the DEA findings known to police in Missouri.

The DEA did not return messages from The Associated Press seeking an interview.

Westport Pharmaceuticals spokeswoman Emilie Dolan said Tuesday that company officials were "surprised by the position that the local DEA takes in that letter." Dolan said only very small amounts of meth can be extracted from Zephrex-D _ so little that a single dose would cost $250 to $500, or 10 to 20 times the street value. She said that makes it impractical to believe meth-makers could successfully use Zephrex-D.

Pseudoephedrine, which can be found in many cold and allergy pills, is a vital precursor for most meth recipes. Missouri has been hit especially hard by the meth epidemic, leading the nation in meth lab seizures every year but one since 2003.

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 _ go even further, requiring prescriptions, as do more than 70 cities and counties in Missouri.

Westport spent years developing a formula that would be effective for cold and allergy sufferers, but available over the counter, free of worry that it would be abused.

A key to making meth is crystallization. Dolan told the AP in December that Zephrex-D interrupts the process because rather than crystallizing when heated with the chemicals, it produces a gooey substance.

In March 2012, Westport applied for an exemption to the federal Combat Meth Act. The DEA informed Westport in December that the exemption was denied.

Last month, six Missouri congressmen urged the DEA to reconsider and allow "unrestricted access" to Zephrex-D, calling it "a huge advancement in our fight against this scourge." It was signed by Republican Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Sam Graves, Billy Long, Vicky Hartzler and Ann Wagner, and Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay.

Dolan said the testing has proven that meth cannot be made with Zephrex-D by using the most popular way of making the drug, the so-called "one-pot" or "shake-and-bake" method in which the ingredients are mixed together in a soda bottle.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)