Missouri's cold medicine database to go online

Consumers wanting to buy certain cold and allergy medicines in Missouri soon will be checked in a statewide database intended to catch people involved in making the illegal drug methamphetamine.

State regulations that took effect Tuesday require pharmacists selling pseudoephedrine-based medicines to enter details about the buyers into a real-time electronic database. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in meth, a highly addictive and illegal stimulant.

The new database is intended to prevent people from purchasing more than the maximum daily or monthly amount of pseudoephedrine products allowed under Missouri law -- and to help police more easily track down those who attempt to do so.

Missouri is one of more than 10 states with laws requiring electronic tracking of sales of meth precursor products, including pseudoephedrine, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws. Two states -- Oregon and Mississippi -- require prescriptions to purchase cold medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.

Missouri's roughly 1,300 pharmacies will start using the database over the next several months, following several regional training sessions for pharmacy employees and law enforcement officers. The goal is to have all pharmacies online by the end of the year.

Under Missouri's new rules, pharmacies will have to enter a customer's full name, address, birth date and signature in the database, as well as specific details about the type and quantity of the pseudoephedrine-based product that was purchased. The system will reject customers who already have exceeded the limit and alert police about the attempted purchase.

"We've seen it used successfully to halt illegal purchases in Florida, Kentucky and other states, and we believe it will be a powerful weapon in the fight against meth in Missouri as well," said Gov. Jay Nixon, who held a news conference about the database Tuesday in Springfield.

Missouri law limits people to buying 3.6 grams a day -- which is about 120 standard tablets -- or 9 grams in a 30-day period of products containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, Claritin-D and Aleve Cold & Sinus. It also requires buyers to be at least 18 years old and to show photo identification.

A typical meth cook can convert 1 gram of pseudoephedrine into about 0.70 grams or less of pure methamphetamine, which then is diluted with additives, federal and state narcotics officers said Tuesday. The resulting methamphetamine product could sell in Missouri for anywhere between $50 and $250 per gram, said Scott Collier, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office in St. Louis.

Since 2005, Missouri has required pharmacies to keep paper log of pseudoephedrine purchasers that law officers can check later. A 2008 law required the development of electronic logs allowing real-time monitoring, but the tracking system was not funded.

Earlier this year, Missouri selected Louisville, Ky.-based Appriss Inc. to develop an electronic monitoring system that is being paid for by the pharmaceutical industry.

Appriss already runs similar systems in Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana and Washington and nationwide for CVS, Rite Aid and Super Value pharmacies, said company spokesman Rick Jones. All told, it supplies tracking systems to about 20,000 pharmacy retailers, he said.

Missouri Pharmacy Association CEO Ron Fitzwater estimated that several hundred Missouri pharmacies already have computer systems that track pseudoephedrine purchases. But he said many smaller stores and community pharmacies will need to be brought online.

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