Franklin County Sheriff's Department Sergeant Jason Grellner makes finding meth his mission. He's the President of the Missouri Narcotics Association and the Unit Commander of the Franklin County Narcotics Unit, which works in conjunction with the St. Louis County Drug Task Force.
Grellner said meth started showing up in the St. Louis area in 1996. That is 20 years after the FDA changed the drug pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that is also the key ingredient for making meth, from requiring a prescription to an over-the-counter drug. The FDA made that change in 1976.
"Missouri has been the leader in meth labs for over a decade, 2010 was the only year we weren't ranked number one, Tennessee took us over and we were back as number one in 2011," Grellner said. "In the state of Missouri right now, a box of pseudoephedrine is sold every 16 seconds, you cannot tell me there are that many sick people in the state of Missouri."
However, Grellner said there is a solution to this problem, it's called House Bill 1952 and he's is pushing it in the Missouri Legislature. The bill would make it a statewide law to require people to have a prescription to purchase the drug pseudoephedrine. It would also allow an exemption for some newly-developed products that can't be made into meth.
He said despite opposition, he has seen proof this is one of the only measures to effectively decrease meth making activity in an area. Counties in the Cape Girardeau area, a meth-making hot spot, passed a prescription-only ordinance for pseudoephedrine in 2011.
"In the southeast, nine counties in and around Cape Girardeau went down an average of 52 percent," Grellner explained. "You want to know why? The entire area is covered by prescription only-ordinances. And the state of Arkansas is only selling to Arkansas residents."
In St. Louis, Grellner said some, but not all counties have passed such ordinances in an effort to fight the drug. St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin Counties have passed countywide ordinances requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine. Grellner said the city of Troy, which houses all of Lincoln County's pharmacies, has passed a similar ordinance, along with Eureka, Ellisville, and Wildwood. Fenton, currently the number one spot in the area for purchasing pseudoephedrine, is also considering a prescription-only ordinance.
However, St. Louis County does not have a countywide ordinance requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine and Grellner said that is resulting in meth moving into the county, including West County.
"Since St. Charles and Jefferson Counties became prescription-only, we have seen huge spikes in St. Louis County that we have not seen before," Grellner said. "I want St. Louis County to pass a prescription-only law and watch how fast meth labs drop in the eastern part of the state. Most meth labs in Missouri would come to a screeching halt and they would see the same decrease that they are seeing in the Cape Girardeau area because the largest concentration of pharmacies are in the St. Louis County and St. Louis City area."
Drug agents are tracking the purchase of pseudoephedrine in St. Louis County on a monthly basis and Grellner said the amount of the drug that is being bought at local pharmacies does not add up.
"An average store would sell about 329 boxes, and average would sell 280 boxes and an average CVS would sell 215. So you tell me why these numbers are 300 and 400 percent higher," Grellner said.
Currently, Oregon and Mississippi are the only two states that have made pseudoephedrine available by prescription only. Grellner said studies indicate both states with the statewide ordinance show "significant drops" in meth labs.