Pubdate: Sun, 23 Jan 2005
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2005 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Bill Poovey, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


CHATTANOOGA - Tennessee officials are asking why it took so long for Pfizer 
Inc. to release an alternative decongestant without the ingredient used to 
make meth.

Pseudoephedrine is an active ingredient in Pfizer's Sudafed and Actifed, 
Schering Plough's Claritin-D and other remedies, but it can also be used to 
make methamphetamine in homemade labs.

Pfizer's alternative decongestant, Sudafed PE, contains phenylephrine, 
which can't be converted into meth. It's been in some Pfizer products sold 
in Europe since 2003, said company spokeswoman Erica Johnson.

Sudafed PE goes on sale in the United States in February, and the company 
will promote it as an alternative to pseudoephedrine products associated 
with illegal meth-making, Johnson said.

"Original Sudafed will still be available, but where sales of 
pseudoephedrine are restricted or placed 'behind the counter,' Sudafed PE 
will provide consumers with a convenient 'on-the-shelf' decongestant," 
Pfizer Vice President Jay Kominsky wrote in a letter to some government and 
law enforcement officials.

In Tennessee - where meth abuse has taken root and ravaged rural 
communities - officials are asking why it took so long.

"We have a lot of questions about why this product was not introduced 
sooner in Tennessee and look forward to hearing the reasons why," said Will 
Pinkston, an aide to Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Johnson declined to comment on the timing of Sudafed PE's arrival in 
American stores.

Some officials said it's connected to a push to put Sudafed and other 
tablets with pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters.

Oklahoma took that approach and saw meth lab seizures fall more than 80 
percent in less than a year. Bredesen has said he would like a similar law 
in Tennessee, which leads the nation in meth lab seizures and accounts for 
three-quarters of such busts in the South.

Between October 2003 and August 2004, the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration busted about 1,200 clandestine meth labs in the state, a 
nearly 400 percent increase from 2000. Also, Tennessee removed an estimated 
750 children from the custody of meth abusers last year, up from 2003.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Laymon of Chattanooga, who prosecutes 
methamphetamine abusers, said the timing of Sudafed PE "raises a whole host 
of questions as to why the pharmaceutical companies didn't move on this sooner.

"It seems fairly clear that Sudafed as a brand is a cash cow for Pfizer," 
Laymon said. "I could understand why they would want to protect their 
flagship brand. Are their decisions motivated by profit? It would seem 
pretty obvious that it is."

Laymon said he hoped the arrival of Sudafed PE does not sway lawmakers from 
restricting pseudoephedrine.

"I would not like to see a company like Pfizer say to a state like 
Tennessee, 'Don't pass this legislation because we are going to take care 
of this issue.' "

Tom Farmer, a Hamilton County narcotics officer who works with a regional 
meth task force in East Tennessee, said pharmaceutical companies have known 
that pseudoephedrine was being abused.

"I find it odd that all of a sudden now they are going to do this. I think 
it is great, but why are they trying to do it now?"

A co-sponsor of Oklahoma's law, state Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, said 
drug companies using pseudoephedrine "told us they were working on things, 
but they didn't give us anything specific."

Johnson said Pfizer failed in an attempt to develop a pseudoephedrine 
tablet that would not allow people to remove an oxygen molecule to make 

"Once we realized the locked formula was not going to work, we developed .. 
Sudafed PE," she said.

Johnson said she didn't know if other drug companies planned to release an 
alternative to pseudoephedrine.

"We hope that others certainly will follow suit," she said.

Mary Frances Faraji, a spokeswoman for Schering-Plough Corp., said its 
Claritin-D is among more than 4,000 products that contain pseudoephedrine. 
She said the company opposes putting Claritin-D behind pharmacy counters.

"We believe pseudoephedrine is safe and effective when used according to 
directions," Faraji said.

Faraji declined comment about whether Schering-Plough was developing an 
alternative to pseudoephedrine.

Gary Esterow, a spokesman for McNeil Consumer and Specialty Pharmaceuticals 
and its Tylenol and Motrin brands that contain pseudoephedrine, also 
declined comment about new alternatives or Pfizer's Sudafed PE.

He said McNeil was committed to providing "safe and effective medications. 
We also believe it is important that consumers have easy access to these 

Elizabeth Assey, a spokeswoman for Consumer Healthcare Products 
Association, a Washington-based industry group, described as unfair any 
questions about the pace of Pfizer releasing Sudafed PE.

"It is a long and painstakingly difficult process, the reformulation," 
Assey said. "We believe our member companies have worked in earnest at ways 
to provide alternatives. Our members don't want to see their products 
ending up in the meth labs."
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