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Police, Pharmacists Back Bill Targeting Meth Production

February 2, 2012

By Charles Couch
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia police and pharmacists are backing a bill aimed at curbing the production of methamphetamine by electronically monitoring the sales of nonprescription drugs, like pseudoephedrine, used to manufacture the illegal stimulant.

Currently, pharmacies and drugstores record sales of pseudoephedrine – commonly used in over-the-counter decongestants – on written logs and report them to various databases.
House Bill 1161 would put most of these retailers under one electronic pseudoephedrine sales tracking system called the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx.

“You have a process of what’s called ‘smurfing,’ which is traveling around from location to location, retailer to retailer buying [pseudo ephedrine] in quantities larger than the restrictions and making meth with it,” said the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Benjamin Cline, R-Amherst.

He said NPLEx “would put a block in front of that process.”

Capt. Troy Lyons of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office spoke on behalf of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association in support of the bill at a meeting Monday of a subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Police in Yorktown and James City County implemented the NPLEx system during a methamphetamine investigation that led to 10 arrests a month ago, Lyons said.

“What we found during that five-month investigation is that these individuals were able to circumvent Virginia law though all the pharmacies had logs of the purchases,” Lyons said.

“They were able to figure out which pharmacies reported to which databases,” and then stagger their purchases of ephedrine products among stores to avoid arousing suspicion.

“We feel that this bill will help address that and put the stops on being able to go pharmacy shopping by bringing them all under one umbrella.”

Wayne Huggins, a lobbyist for the Virginia State Police Association, said the state police frequently investigate methamphetamine operations, shutting down 218 methamphetamine labs just last year.

“This is a huge, huge problem throughout the state, particularly in Southwest Virginia,” Huggins said.

The NPLEx system monitors pseudoephedrine purchases in real time and can track similar purchases across state lines in order to restrict customers from buying more than the legal limit of these medications, Cline said.

He said the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators provides the system at no cost.

Seventeen states have the NPLEx system in place, said Scott Johnson of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

North Carolina implemented it on Jan. 1 and stopped 1,600 illegal sales of ephedrine products in the first 23 days, he said. Alabama has used the system for a year and has prevented 93,000 sales – equivalent to 220 grams of methamphetamine.

“That’s taking $30 million of meth off the street from use of pseudoephed,” Johnson added.

Cline’s bill would maintain the current sales limit of ephedrine-related nonprescription medicine: Individuals may not buy more than 3.6 grams a day or more than 9 grams during a 30-day period.

Officials from the Virginia Pharmacists Association and the Association of Virginia Drug Stores spoke in support of the bill. No one opposed it.

The Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. It now goes to the full committee for consideration.

If it becomes law, the measure would take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

This CNS article was published by The Star-Tribune.