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New pill could solve Missouri's meth problem

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(CBS News) FRANKLIN COUNTY, Mo. - Few drugs have destroyed as many lives as methamphetamine. About 12 million Americans have used it -- nearly 5 percent of the population. It's often made from cold medicine in makeshift labs.

Police have tried everything to stop this. Now a small drug company believes it has a solution and it's putting 45 million coupons in the Sunday papers to sell its product.

For nearly 20 years, Missouri has been in the middle of the country's methamphetamine epidemic. And so has Sgt. Jason Grellner, commander of the Franklin County narcotics unit.

In fight against crystal meth, a focus on chemistry

"I am way tired of doing this, my people are tired of doing this," he said. "This is manpower intensive. It eats police budgets."

Grellner believes a new pill called Zephrex-D could be the answer. So if a product like this is the only one available meth labs go away? "Go away," said Grellner. "They end."

Users and dealers make meth using the sinus medicine pseudoephedrine and a dangerous combination of household chemicals that often explode. In recent years, new laws have limited the number of pills a person can buy, but the problem hasn't gone away.

"It's gotten very, very portable," Grellner said, "and it's gotten very small but it's still very, very dangerous. Meth labs have always been a fire and explosion hazard, but not like we've seen in the last few years."

In 2012, there were more than 11,000 illegal meth labs seized in the U.S.

Into that epidemic stepped Linda Lewis, a lawyer representing Highland Pharmaceuticals, a 14-person operation just outside St. Louis.

"I looked at what I was seeing in my neighborhood and my community," said Lewis, "and I thought, ''Highland is a local business. Wouldn't it be great if a local business could help the community here?'"

Highland Pharmaceuticals began making pills for pets, but Lewis was convinced technology that evolved from that could be applied to pseudoephedrine.

And it worked. Because of its pasty consistency, Zephrex-D can't be ground into powder, the first step in making meth. And the pseudoephedrine inside is so hard to extract, it would cost too much to illegally convert.

"Zephrex-D, no matter which way you try to convert it into methamphetamine, is not a viable solution for meth cooks," said Grellner.

He added: "I am a salesman for ending meth labs and I will go about it any way I can."

Grellner said that tiny Highland Pharmaceuticals has succeeded at something the major drug manufacturers say can't be done: making a meth-proof drug that works. As of this month, Zephrex-D is available in 15,000 stores nationwide.

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