The Times West Virginian

February 20, 2013

Procedures to fight meth use steps in right direction

Times West Virginian

— It’s probably happened to you.

You’ve been feeling under the weather, so you decide to stop by a local pharmacy to pick up some cold medicine to help drag you out of the funk you’ve been stuck in for a few days.

You’re tired and sniffly, but you know an over-the-counter medicine like Sudafed will help chase those feelings away.

Of course, once you get to the pharmacy, you find that the spot where Sudafed normally would be is empty, and you have to speak to the pharmacist directly — and show your driver’s license — to buy the medicine your body needs to get well.

And don’t bother trying to stock up to prevent the same hassle in the future. West Virginia law limits the purchase of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient found in Sudafed and other over-the-counter options used to treat the common cold.

Why? It’s one way lawmakers can fight rampant meth use in the state.

That’s because criminals often purchase common over-the-counter medications used to fight colds and allergies because those medicines contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make meth.

It’s not the only way the state is cracking down on criminals getting their hands on the ingredient. At the beginning of the year, state pharmacies began using the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), an electronic database that not only keeps records of customers purchasing medications containing pseudoephedrine, but makes that data available to other pharmacies and law enforcement agencies.

For years prior to Jan. 1, when the state began using NPLEx, pharmacies were required to keep records of customers purchasing medications containing pseudoephedrine. But the information was typically logged at the pharmacy and not shared with others. Plus, if law enforcement officers were investigating a suspect for meth manufacture, the officers had to visit individual pharmacies and compare records.

Now the process has been streamlined in what officials are calling “a valuable tool.”

They also say law-abiding consumers shouldn’t see any difference. Just like before, customers will have to present a driver’s license to purchase the medication. As long as no flags are raised, the purchase will go through like normal. But if a person has purchased more than the daily, monthly or annual limit on pseudoephedrine medications determined by state law — the monthly limit is 7.2 grams, which is basically two boxes of cold medicine — the system will forbid the transaction.

NPLEx is shared among 27 states across the country, including neighboring Kentucky and Virginia, and Pennsylvania and Ohio are considering mandating its use as well.

That’s good news, according to Bridget Lambert, president of the West Virginia Retailers Association.

“Once our borders are blocked, then it would be virtually impossible to go across state lines” to buy supplies for a meth lab, she said.

We’re encouraged by the positive results NPLEx is having in the two short months since it was implemented, and even though Marion County Sheriff Joe Carpenter has said the sheriff’s department hasn’t had a chance to use the system because there have been few meth-related arrests in the past few months, it’s reassuring to know the system is in place if local officers ever need it.

It’s just one more step in the community’s — and state’s — continued war on drugs.