HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Meth Fight Hits Medicine Makers
Pubdate: Mon, 31 Oct 2005
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2005 The Oregonian
Author: Steve Suo


Pharmaceuticals New Restrictions At U.S. Drugstore Counters Are 
Drying Up The Demand For Pseudoephedrine

The world's largest pseudoephedrine factory is eliminating 15 percent 
of its work force, citing a sharp reduction in demand caused by U.S. 
sales restrictions on cold medicines that contain the potential 
methamphetamine ingredient.

The move by BASF of Germany is the strongest sign yet of the 
diminishing role of pseudoephedrine-based cold medicine -- and the 
rising popularity of phenylephrine, a decongestant that cannot be 
used by meth cooks.

If the trend continues and the world's pharmaceutical makers abandon 
pseudoephedrine, drug cartels will be deprived of a key chemical they 
use to make meth.

BASF primarily blamed "a significant decline" in orders for 
pseudoephedrine from the United States, which consumes half the 
world's exports of pseudoephedrine and its chemical cousin, ephedrine.

Driving U.S. consumers away from pseudoephedrine products is 
legislation enacted by 34 states requiring cold medicines containing 
the chemical to be kept behind store or pharmacy counters. Those 
restrictions have reduced sales of pseudoephedrine products, slashed 
the number of home meth labs found by police, and sparked an 
explosion in products without pseudoephedrine.

Officials at BASF say the cuts will affect 95 of the company's 630 
employees at its factory in Minden, Germany. The company employs 
82,000 people worldwide.

Folker Ruchatz, BASF director of Pharma Solutions and dietary 
supplements in North America, said tighter regulations and the switch 
to phenylephrine "will continue to reduce the demand for pseudoephedrine."

BASF is not alone in feeling the market pressure on pseudoephedrine. 
A leading Indian manufacturer of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, Krebs 
Biochemicals and Industries Ltd., has told shareholders that the 
tighter U.S. regulations have hurt sales and "affected our production 
and profitability."

But business is good at Pfizer Inc., which introduced a cold medicine 
containing phenylephrine earlier this year in anticipation of tighter 
regulation of pseudoephedrine. Spokesman Jay Kosminsky said sales of 
the new "Sudafed PE" have outpaced the traditional version with 
pseudoephedrine, and Pfizer has told shareholders the brand as a 
whole is selling better than before the reformulation.

As other companies rush to phenylephrine, the world's leading 
manufacturer of the chemical is expanding. Boehringer Ingelheim of 
Germany has doubled its phenylephrine capacity and plans to increase 
it another 50 percent by 2007. The company is installing equipment to 
manufacture the chemical at its Petersburg, Va., facility. The 
combined capacity would be enough to completely supplant current U.S. 
demand for pseudoephedrine.

Rob Bovett, a key supporter of Oregon's limits on pseudoephedrine 
sales, hailed BASF's plan to reduce production.

"Our intent was to get rid of pseudoephedrine," said Bovett, legal 
counsel to the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association. "Slowly but 
surely get rid of it. Because we knew once we got it off the shelf, 
the manufacturers would reformulate with phenylephrine or something else."

Choking Off Cartels' Supply

BASF is one of a handful of companies in Germany, India, China and 
the Czech Republic that dominate the production of ephedrine and 
pseudoephedrine worldwide.

The company's decision to cut production hints at pseudoephedrine's 
growing obsolescence in the United States.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that through August, U.S. 
imports of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine from Germany were down 17 
percent from the same period in 2004. Imports from India were down 15 
percent, China 26 percent, and the Czech Republic 100 percent. The 
declines were partially offset by increased imports from Switzerland, 
which has several chemicals brokerages.

It's unclear whether other countries will follow the U.S. lead, 
further reducing pseudoephedrine's use internationally and making the 
chemical harder for Mexican drug cartels to obtain.

Mexican cartels supply an estimated 65 percent of meth sold in the 
United States. Choking off the cartels' international supply of 
necessary chemicals produced profound shortages of meth twice in the 
1990s, The Oregonian revealed last year. Meth use declined as a result.

But large-scale Mexican traffickers adapted by purchasing millions of 
pseudoephedrine pills, first in Canada and then in Mexico, for use in 
their "superlabs."

Restricting Access

This year, U.S. lawmakers have introduced several proposals to 
further restrict access to ephedrine and pseudoephedrine domestically 
and internationally. Some of them called the BASF announcement a step 
in the right direction.

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., the author of legislation that would 
require the State Department to scrutinize the global trade in 
pseudoephedrine, said Congress must act to guard against diversion of 
pseudoephedrine in other countries.

"I'm pleased that there may be less demand for large quantities of 
imported pseudoephedrine than in the past," Kennedy said in a 
statement. However, "by no means is this the end."

Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., who, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is 
sponsoring national sales restrictions on pseudoephedrine products, 
said he expects further reductions in production by BASF and other 
companies if Congress approves his legislation.

He said U.S. demand for pseudoephedrine has been artificially 
inflated by the meth trade.

"The demand for these products should be driven strictly by 
legitimate consumers," Talent said in a statement, "not the meth cooks."

Impact On BASF

Pseudoephedrine is a tiny piece of BASF's highly diversified business 

The export market for raw pseudoephedrine and ephedrine powder 
amounted to about $80 million in 2004, United Nations trade data show.

European Union trade statistics show that BASF faces reductions in 
demand this year from both the United States and Mexico, where 
officials have tightened restrictions on pseudoephedrine distributors 
after widespread diversion by drug cartels. This year, Germany's 
exports to Mexico dropped by nearly 80 percent.

In addition, BASF officials said they faced increased competition 
from Asian producers of caffeine, which is also made at the Minden factory.

In Germany, where unemployment has hovered near 10 percent for two 
years, company officials said they regretted the need to eliminate jobs.

"It is not easy for us to carry this message to our workers," said 
Dr. Roland Minges, managing director of BASF, in a statement. 
"However, the production adjustments are necessary to improve the 
international competitiveness of the Minden site."

Other companies

Demand for imported pseudoephedrine powder is declining because U.S. 
drug companies face difficulty selling the pills and syrups that contain it.

Schering-Plough reported that its third-quarter sales of Claritin D, 
an over-the-counter allergy medicine that contains pseudoephedrine, 
were down 16 percent from the same period a year ago. The $18 million 
drop reflects "the beginning of the adverse impact of recent 
restrictions" on pseudoephedrine products, the company said in a 
filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Schering-Plough has not been able to easily reformulate Claritin 
because its other active ingredient, a relatively new antihistamine 
called loratadine, was approved for use with pseudoephedrine but not 

Michigan-based Perrigo Co., the world's largest maker of generic 
over-the-counter products for chain stores, forecasts an even steeper 
drop in sales of pseudoephedrine products.

Cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine brought in 18 
percent of the company's $1 billion in sales last fiscal year. On 
Sept. 7, the company told shareholders that its sales of 
pseudoephedrine products are expected to decline by 34 percent to 40 
percent -- $62 million to $72 million -- in fiscal 2006.

The company added that Perrigo is in the process of introducing more 
products containing phenylephrine.

Bovett, the Oregon advocate of pseudoephedrine controls, said the 
market has found a way to satisfy consumer needs.

"Pseudoephedrine just isn't necessary," Bovett said. "It never was necessary."
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