By Nathan Baker
The maker of a new formulation of a popular cold medicine says the product may help states struggling against methamphetamine abuse, but local pharmacists have been slow to adopt the product, worried the cost may burden law-abiding customers.
Acura Pharmaceuticals released its new product, Nexafed, in December, advertising it as a way to help battle the growing problem of methamphetamine labs and drug use.
The pills contain pseudoephedrine as an active ingredient, but an additive turns the solution to a paste that can’t be filtered when someone attempts to extract the common meth ingredient for use in clandestine labs.
In one-pot or shake-and-bake labs, cooks can only produce about half the amount of methamphetamine using Nexafed as with other pseudoephedrine tablets.
Brad Rivet, Acura’s vice president of marketing, said the company’s goal in developing the product was to curtail methamphetamine use by drastically reducing the payoff to illegal drug producers.
“Even using the one-pot method, where the pseudoephedrine is converted to meth more quickly than the gelling process can take effect, our lab testing showed you can only make about half the product with Nexafed,” Rivet said. “We thought that was significant enough to make a big impact in communities that are struggling with meth problems. If it’s not so easy to make it, the cooks are not going to want to deal with it.”
Rivet said sales of Nexafed have been slowly building in its six months of availability.
Dozens of pharmacies, mostly independently owned, have begun stocking the product alongside other pseudoephedrine drugs, and some have begun carrying it exclusively.
Rivet said smaller chains, including Fruth Pharmacies of West Virginia, have pledged to sell Nexafed, and some of the larger chains make the product available to their pharmacists through wholesalers.
“Our initial marketing has mostly been aimed at the independent pharmacists, who will most likely be the early adopters for a product like this,” he said. “If they carry Nexafed and remove the other products from their stores, meth producers are going to go elsewhere to get those ingredients. It gets the criminal element out of their stores and away from their customers who are using their products legally.”
In Tennessee’s Scott County, northwest of Knoxville on the Kentucky state line, all of the county’s independent pharmacies recently announced the switch to carrying Nexafed exclusively.
Rivet said Tennessee, which is usually vying for the top spot in the nation in annual seized meth labs, could use a product like Nexafed.
“Tennessee has been one of the best for Nexafed sales,” he said. “It’s one of the best in recognizing the need for the product, because pharmacists there can see the effects methamphetamine is having first-hand.”
But local pharmacists said they don’t plan to stock Nexafed, worried that the higher price may put more burden on their customers looking to legally use the cold medicine.
“We sell very little pseudoephedrine products to begin with, and we’re very careful with who we sell it to,” Union Drug Pharmacist April Franklin said, citing the current state-mandated controls on purchases. “It costs so much more than the generic pseudoephedrine products. It’s going to get to the point that the good people who use it for what it should be used for are going to be punished.”