WHEELING - As West Virginia lawmakers consider making pseudoephedrine products available by prescription only, Kroger stores in Wheeling now stock the abuse-deterrent product Nexafed.
Pseudoephedrine is used for cold and allergy relief, found in products such as Sudafed, Claritin-D and Allegra-D. It also is the main ingredient used to manufacture methamphetemine.
In 2013, law enforcement discovered more than 500 meth labs statewide. The cleanup cost and the hazard the labs pose is leading many in Charleston, such as Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, a pharmacist, to call for the prescription-only legislation.
Abuse-deterrent drugs such as Nexafed also are coming on the market. Considered the meth-resistant equivalent to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine as the active ingredient, Nexafed involves a new technology that Acura Pharmaceuticals believes disrupts the tablet's conversion to meth.
Steve Burson, pharmacy sales manager at Kroger, said the new technology "gives customers peace of mind" regarding the risk of pseudoephedrine theft and abuse while enabling them to still benefit from the ingredient's intended purpose.
At this time, Kroger pharmacies are not offering tamper-resistant pseudoephedrine products exclusively. Sudafed and other multi-symptom medications are still stocked behind counters.
Brad Rivet, vice president of marketing at Acura Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Nexafed, said pharmacies' adoption of the new medication over time will result in fewer meth labs.
"Pharmacies and patients have been very receptive to the switch to Nexafed, and meth cooks must look elsewhere to get the precursor products they need for meth production," he said.
Rivet said attempting to extract the pseudoephedrine from Nexafed forms a "thick gel to block that extraction."
Other pharmacies in West Virginia, including Rite Aid, already have made a shift to carrying only tamper-resistant pseudoephedrine formulations. Zephrex-D is another abuse-deterrent option.
Across West Virginia, about 10 percent of all state residents purchased pseudoephedrine products in 2013, according to data from the National Precusor Log Exchange. The purchase numbers were slightly lower than expected, but not much, said Mike Goff with the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy.
Goff added the state saw 422,675 separate pseudoephedrine transactions last year.
Considering the increase in meth lab discoveries in West Virginia, Goff believes over-the-counter access to tamper-resistant products, combined with a requirement that remaining PSE products are made prescription-only, would significantly reduce the number of meth labs.
"It appears that some pharmacies are choosing to only stock the tamper-resistant forms of PSE. However, most still sell the multi-symptom products that contain pseudoephedrine and another active ingredient," said Goff.
Producers can still use these multi-symptom products in clandestine lab operations, Goff said.