Despite systems meth production still a problem

CHARLESTON – Although some are lauding the state’s real-time pseudoephedrine block system, known as the National Precursor Log Exchange, many local state lawmakers say illegal methamphetamine is still being widely produced and remains a problem for law enforcement.

The West Virginia Retailers Association highlighted the most recent results achieved by the NPLEx system. New data released by Appriss, the company that operates the NPLEx system, show that through the second quarter of 2014, electronic technology in the Mountain State blocked more than 6,150 boxes of medicine containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) from being sold.

This prevented more than 16,344 grams from potentially being diverted by meth criminals, according to a press release issued Monday by the association.

NPLEx is a real-time electronic logging system used by pharmacies and law enforcement to track sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine, which is used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Sales are blocked for anyone attempting to purchase more than the legal limit.

NPLEx helped achieve a 35 percent reduction in overall PSE sales compared to the same quarter in 2013 as well as a 20 percent reduction in unique purchasers, proving that the system is succeeding in its long-term goals of limiting sales and diversion of these products, according to the press release.

“Implemented just over a year ago, West Virginia’s NPLEx system continues to demonstrate quantifiable results in the fight against meth – proving that it is an essential tool for retailers and the law enforcement community,” said Bridget Lambert, president of the West Virginia Retailers Association. “Most remarkable are the year-to-year results for 2014 compared to 2013.

“Sales of PSE are down over 35 percent and the number of individuals buying PSE is down over 20 percent. These downward sales trends are the most significant of any NPLEx utilizing state in the country. Most importantly, the law seems to be having a positive impact on meth labs as the state is reporting a 27 percent reduction in meth lab incidents for the first five months of 2014,” Lambert said.

Under state law, people are limited to buying no more than 3.6 grams a day, 7.2 grams a month, or 48 grams a year of pseudoephedrine without a prescription.

However, many state lawmakers from Wood County said meth busts are still a regular occurrence around the Parkersburg area.

“They aren’t really making any arrests from this system (the NPLEx),” said Delegate Tom Azinger, R-Wood. “The criminals are finding other ways to get what they need to make it. Meth is still a big problem.”

Azinger has supported bills that would have made pseudoephedrine available only by prescription. He said such measures have seen big success in other states.

“Nothing is as good as a prescription-only policy,” he said.

People worried about having to make more doctor appointments and have more out of pocket expense in getting the medication was one reason legislation calling for it to be available by prescription only was voted down.

Azinger said many people with certain chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can’t use it and have to use alternatives. If someone needs it, they can call their doctor to get a prescription without having to go for an office visit.

Many pharmacies no longer sell it.

“It just isn’t worth it,” Azinger said of the tracking system.

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, said many meth manufacturers have found ways around the limits by having individuals buy it for them.

Some pharmacies have removed the product while some have switched to a tamper-resistant form of the product.

“We are still seeing our fair share of meth busts in this area,” Ellem said. ”In my opinion, if this system has done anything, it is only a marginal slowdown.”

Other lawmakers believe the system is working.

State Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said the state has seen a 30 percent reduction in sales of pseudoephedrine since the NPLEx system was put into place.

“We knew it would come down if given a chance,” he said.

Nohe has opposed efforts to make pseudoephedrine available only through prescription.

Based on a study from West Liberty University, Nohe said it will be estimated to cost the state $149.4 million over 10 years for pseudoephedrine to be available by prescription only.

“In every poll we have seen, the majority of people did not want pseudoephedrine to go to prescription,” Nohe said.

Through the use of the NPLEx system and initiatives pharmacies have taken on their own to limit pseudoephedrine to potential meth manufacturers, the state is seeing changes, he said.

”We are seeing dramatic reductions,” Nohe said.