A controversial ingredient in some cold-medicine boxes now requires the doctor’s orders in Ozark.
Ozark aldermen closed the door on the pseudoephedrine debate June 17 with a 5-0 vote to ban acquiring or selling the drug unless by prescription.
Alderman Brad Jackson was absent.
Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine. Aldermen say restricting access to the ingredient will make meth cookers more likely to look elsewhere.
“Safety—that’s the bottom line,” said Alderman James Haik, who sponsored the bill after reversing his position on pseudoephedrine sales earlier this year. “There’s plenty of events out there to back it up, and I just don’t have anything else to add to it.”
Alderman James Stewart said he voted for the ban after consulting with local police, the Combined Ozarks Multi-jurisdictional Enforcement Team and physicians and councilmen from West Plains, where a similar ban has been in place for a year.
One physician with thousands of patients reported just a handful of requests for pseudoephedrine, Stewart said.
“There will still be 200 boxes of cold medicine on the shelf,” Stewart said. “They just won’t have pseudoephedrine.”
Stewart also cited a Government Accountability Office report issued earlier this year that investigated the effects of meth-related incidents in localities with pseudoephedrine bans. The report showed “unequivocal” evidence that bans work, he said.
“The jury’s still out on consumers. But as far as the intended purpose—unequivocal, no doubt. The difference it made was substantial,” Stewart said.
The report says Oregon, Mississippi and 63 Missouri cities or counties have passed laws or ordinances requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine. Meth lab incidents in Missouri rose nearly 7 percent from 2010 to 2011, the report says, but “the area in southeastern Missouri where most of the communities have adopted prescription-only ordinances saw lab incidents decrease by nearly half.”
Stewart said he would’ve preferred measures like State Rep. Lynn Morris’ bill to regulate access to the drug statewide, but after the bill’s failure this session, the city had to act, he said.
“I would’ve wanted to see the effect of that law before I voted for this. For me, this is something the state should’ve been taking care of, but for political and, frankly, lobbying reasons from the pharmaceutical companies, it hasn’t been,” Stewart said. “This isn’t like we’re out on an island here. We’re just the next domino to fall, and when Springfield falls, as I expect it to, I don’t want their meth cookers coming into my town.”
Ozark Police Chief Lyle Hodges agreed. Ozark was “becoming a destination” for people seeking meth precursors, he said, and mobile meth labs have been on the rise.
Meth cooks will often make the drug where ingredients are available, Hodges said.
“They will find the precursor somewhere,” Hodges said, “but I’d just as soon they find it somewhere else.”
Ozark Mayor Shane Nelson said it’s the city’s responsibility to protect its residents.
“With our proximity to 65 Highway and cities around us putting a ban on it, it’s pushing more people to come here to buy pseudoephedrine for the wrong reasons,” Nelson said. “I feel we had to take some kind of action ... and anything we can do to try to stem the tide of meth, I feel like we have to do it.”
The original version of this article said aldermen banned possessing, acquiring or selling pseudoephedrine unless by prescription. The ordinance includes possession in its definition of "acquire," but does not ban possession.