Some Missouri lawmakers say a system that tracks the purchase of pseudoephedrine is helping law enforcement crack down on those trying to make meth. At least one narcotics law enforcement officer disagrees.
NPLEx is a real-time electronic logging system used by pharmacies and law enforcement that tracks and limits how many times an individual buys medicine that has pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient used in making meth. The Combat Meth Act was passed by the federal government in 2005 and requires that every purchase of pseudoephedrine products are logged. The Missouri legislature passed the NPLEx system in 2010 and it was implemented in 2011. State law allows the purchase of 3.6 grams per day, 9 grams per 30 day, and 108 grams annually.
State Representative Kurt Bahr said the NPLEx system is more efficient than the previous log book method in which pharmacies tracked purchases by logging information by hand in written books. Bahr said last year the NPLEx system stopped 3,500 boxes of pseudoephedrine from being sold to those who would be improperly using it.
“It’s a point of sale security measure to make sure people aren’t purchasing too much pseudoephedrine, so that we curb the production of methamphetamines,” said Bahr.
Some states require a prescription for drugs containing pseudoephedrine, but State Representative Travis Fitzwater said lawmakers are thankful Missouri has the NPLEx system rather than requiring a prescription for those drugs.
“We want to make sure that there’s nobody pushing to make this an RX only thing because it prevents patients from getting the medications that are necessary in this really annoying time of the year where everybody kind of gets drilled with allergies,” said Fitzwater.
Lieutenant of the Franklin County Sheriffs Office and President of the Missouri Narcotics Association Jason Grellner said the NPLEx system is not enough to fight the production of meth and believes the state should adopt a prescription only method.
“The NPLEx system can’t stop smurfing in which we see day in and day out,” said Grellner. “We even see large scale smurfing among gangs in St. Louis where gang members will stand on the parking lots of Walgreens and shoulder tap individuals going inside, giving them cash to purchase pseudoephedrine.”
Grellner said “smurfing” is where multiple people purchase pseudoephedriene in order to make meth and said an upwards of 60 to 70 percent of pseudoephedrine sales go directly to meth labs. Grellner said there are 74 counties and cities that require prescriptions for drugs containing pseudoephedrine.
“What we have seen in those communities that have gone prescription only is up to an 80 or 90 percent drop in meth labs along the southeast portion of Missouri where we have the most cities and counties with prescription only requirements,” said Grellner.
Bahr said requiring a prescription would make purchases of pseudoephedrine impossible to track.
“Once you become a prescription only you’re subject to HIPAA law,” said Bahr. “So, now the sheriff can’t go in and take a look at the log book because that’s now a HIPAA violation and so he doesn’t know whose buying pseudoephedrine in his own county.”
Grellner said the NPLEx system is paid for by the industry that manufactures pseudoephedrine products that are sold to the public.
“The problem is it’s a $1.2 billion a year gross industry that we’re up against and we’re up against a lot of strong lobbying from the industry that stands to lose that money,” said Grellner.
Some experts say 90 percent of the meth purchased in the United States is cooked in Mexico, where precursor chemicals are easier to obtain.
“I would rather work on methamphetamine trafficking than meth labs that explode, endanger the lives of Missourians, endanger the environment, and endanger children throughout the state of Missouri and law enforcement officers that have to work in those environments,” said Grellner.