updated 12/22/2004 7:58:46 PM ET 2004-12-23T00:58:46

The maker of Sudafed is offering a new version of the cold and allergy medicine without an ingredient often used to make the illegal and highly addictive drug methamphetamine in homemade labs.

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Pseudophedrine will be replaced with another substance, phenylephrine, in a new product called Sudafed PE, which will become available Jan. 10 in the United States, Pfizer Inc. spokeswoman Erica Johnson said Wednesday. Pfizer will continue to offer the old Sudafed, too.

Johnson said the new formula will make it easier for consumers to buy the medication and could help curtail meth production.

In many states, pharmacists keep Sudafed and other cold medicines used to make meth behind a counter. Oklahoma requires that such medications be distributed by a pharmacist, a step also being considered in Indiana and other states hit hard by the drug epidemic.

“It’s a matter of striking a balance between giving access to legitimate consumers of the medicine and preventing criminals from getting hold of the product to convert it to methamphetamine,” Johnson said.

New formula already sold in Europe
Johnson said the new formula has been sold for years in Europe and has proved safe and effective.

“Anything anybody can do to reduce the use of pseudophedrine to make meth is a good thing,” said Eric Lawrence, program manager for an Indiana State Police unit that searches for clandestine drug laboratories.

Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported that more than 7,000 meth labs were dismantled nationwide.

The drug, a stimulant that can be injected, smoked or swallowed, has grown in popularity in recent years as its use and production have spread from the South and Southwest. It is most prevalent in California and the Midwest.

Indiana State Police expect to have dismantled 1,500 meth labs by the end of the year, up from 1,260 last year and just 27 in 1998.

Jim Braum, a pharmacist at the Oak Hill Pharmacy in Evansville who keeps Sudafed and other cold medicines containing pseudophedrine behind the counter, said he doubts the new Sudafed formula alone will curb meth production.

“The other pseudophedrine will still be out there,” Braum said.

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