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W.Va. lawmakers question pseudoephedrine tracking system

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state's six-month-old pseudoephedrine tracking system is working great, with thousands of illegal purchases prevented right at the cash register, according to the West Virginia Retailers Association.

But law enforcement officials, the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, and House of Delegates Health Committee Chairman Don Perdue are not so enthusiastic about the program's results.

See more: Meth lab busts on pace for a record year

West Virginia adopted the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, through a bill passed in the 2012 legislative session, although it only went online in January. The system is a real-time tracking system for pseudoephedrine sales, used by 28 states nationwide.

"The minute you purchase pseudoephedrine and they hit the button to register that sale, it's entered into the NPLEx," said Bridget Lambert, Retailers Association president.

Pseudoephedrine purchases are limited to 3.6 grams per day in West Virginia, 7.2 grams per month and 48 grams per year.

According to data from NPLEx, the system stopped the illegal purchase of 9,965 boxes of pseudoephedrine between Jan. 1 and June 30.

"I think 9,900 boxes for six months shows that it's working," Lambert said. "NPLEx has the ability to be a very effective tool for law enforcement if they use it correctly."

Law enforcement officials aren't so sure.

Mike Goff, administrator of the Board of Pharmacy's controlled substance monitoring program, said the system stopped sales of 9,965 pseudoephedrine boxes in the first six months of this year.

But that's only about 3 percent of the state's total sales. Between January and June, 236,033 boxes of pseudoephedrine were sold in West Virginia.

Goff, a former state trooper, said NPLEx is an effective way to monitor pseudoephedrine sales but provides little help in preventing those sales from happening in the first place.

"We want to stop sales. We don't want to track sales. Once they've got their pseudoephedrine, it's too late," he said.

Kanawha Chief Deputy Mike Rutherford said the county could see a record number of meth lab busts this year. And as far as he knows, not a single bust has come as a result of NPLEx information.

"I have serious doubts it's doing anything. If it is, it's not showing up in the street. What we see out here is meth lab after meth lab," he said.

Rutherford said meth makers are circumventing NPLEx by hiring others to purchase pseudoephedrine in their stead. The practice is known as "smurfing."

"These people aren't dumb. They'll do everything they can to get their product," he said.

He said law enforcement originally was told NPLEx would help prevent meth labs.

"That didn't work quite that way. Then they said 'Well okay, we'll track them down easier," he said. "We're not interested in finding more. We're interested in preventing them."

In a letter to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey last month, Delegate Don Perdue, chairman of the House Health Committee, said NPLEx "has made no apparent impact and there are some in Congress feel it may actually have resulted in sales increases."

Perdue asked Morrisey to investigate pseudoephedrine sales in West Virginia, and take legal action against companies that manufacture or sell the drugs.

Speaking to the Daily Mail on Tuesday, Perdue said if Morrisey is not able to act, he wants the Legislature to pass a law making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug.

Lambert said the Retailers Association would not support a prescription-only bill. She said making pseudoephedrine a controlled substance would limit police officers' access to sales information, since that information would then be protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

"We have never supported that. We feel that it would be counter productive with the prescription drug problem in West Virginia," she said.

Lambert said police haven't given the tracking system enough time to work, saying it may be 18 to 24 months before the full effects of the system can be measured.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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