Med sales tracked to control meth production

October 2, 2011
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LANSING — Michigan pharmacies will soon use an automated system to track customers that buy certain over-the- counter cold and allergy medicines.

Effective Jan. 1, retailers are required to obtain names and dates of birth of those who buy medicine containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. These ingredients play an integral role in the production of methamphetamine, one of the most addictive illegal drugs.

“It is just an awful situation in our communities where meth is the number one drug of choice, and particularly in southwest Michigan,” said State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, who authored the legislation. “It is destroying families and individuals on a daily basis because of this highly addictive and terribly destructive drug.”

The law is an attempt to crack down on meth production, which is on the rise in the state.

“Meth is a growing problem. Every time we seem to find a way to deal with the problem that discourages methamphetamine labs, they find another way to do it,” said Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “From labs in the home, to labs in hotel rooms — now to mobile labs in the back of cars: They keep moving ahead of the ball as we keep catching up with them.”

In particular, there is a rise in one-pot methamphetamine labs that allow drug dealers to produce meth and quickly dispose of the evidence. It is very easy to make and it is very dangerous, Jungel said.

“The point is exactly that — to try to attack the meth labs,” Jungel said. “You have the one-pot operations now that we are finding on the shoulders of the road. They make it and throw it out and drive off.”

Michigan will be the 19th state requiring electronic tracking of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. The system is entirely funded by the pharmaceutical industry, Proos said.

“If you look at the states that have implemented this, it has been thousands in a month that have been stopped and sometimes tens of thousands in six months that have been stopped at the point of purchase,” said Proos.

As a representative of two counties bordering Indiana, which already has the system, Proos said he was concerned and had a vested interest in new legislation to crack down on methamphetamine production.

“Because without legislation that is at least on par with Indiana, you can imagine that individuals are going to figure it out pretty quickly that they can purchase more than their allotted amount just across the border. They can head into Michigan and pick up as much as they need and more, to purchase and to sell,” Proos said.

Multi-state purchases are tracked by the National Precursor Log Exchange, an Internet-based program administered by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, to all participating states.

“So if you go into a Rite-Aid or you go into a Walgreens or you go into a Meijer, once you make that purchase of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, it automatically gets put into a database,” Jungel said.

The new system will block the sale to anyone trying to purchase more than the 3.6 grams per day and 9 grams in 30 days of either of the ingredients.

“Many of those individuals use a very safe and effective over-the-counter product like pseudoephedrine and ephedrine,” Proos said. “You want to make sure that you can grant access to those people in a safe and effective way that isn’t too much of a burden, while helping to stop those who wish to abuse pseudoephedrine and ephedrine to make methamphetamine.”

The new system requires customers to swipe their driver’s license to send the information to a secure database accessible only to law enforcement. It replaces a system of paper records that was often difficult to use to track multiple purchases.

“This is all information that they were taking and recording regardless in a paper log, so now it is all going to be electronic, said Greg Baran, director of governmental affairs at the Michigan Pharmacists Association. “This should make it much easier. We are supportive of it.”

Real-time tracking is available with the new system. Clerks receive an error message when customers buy more than the legal limit.

The goal of the system is not to terminate all meth production in Michigan; Proos said that unfortunately meth is here to stay.

“The question is how can we better give the tools to law enforcement to decrease its growth and potentially give law enforcement a chance to identify the individuals that need help, assistance and treatment to break the habit that is destroying themselves and their families,” said Proos.

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