Guest speakers at the Kanawha County Meth Task Force meeting Thursday said they doubt the ability of electronic drug-tracking systems to stop the sale of medications with pseudoephedrine.
The Kanawha County Commission created the group, which is charged with looking for viable solutions to the county's meth epidemic.
State law requires all pharmacies to report the sale of medication containing pseudoephedrine to a national database called NPLEx. The mandate was part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 2012 substance abuse bill, and has been in effect since January.
Charleston Police Lt. Chad Napier said the system has contributed to a slight decline in the sale of medications with pseudoephedrine, but that a state law requiring a prescription for such medication would be more effective. He said a prescription-only mandate would significantly curtail meth labs.
Pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in medication that treats stuffy noses and sinuses, but it's also a main ingredient in meth.
Keith Humphreys, a West Virginia native and psychiatry professor at Stanford University, also favors the prescription-only approach.
"The NPLEx electronic tracking system is ineffective," Humphreys said.
Jim Acquisto is vice president of Appriss, Inc., the company that makes NPLEx. He said NPLEx is vital in blocking sales of medicine with pseudoephedrine, which, in turn, decreases the number of meth labs in the state.
NPLEx tracks sales in real time. In theory, once someone reaches his or her box limit, the system alerts the cashier, who can block the next sale.
It alerts law enforcement via email when someone is blocked from buying medication with pseudoephedrine, Acquisto said.
But Napier said authorities sometimes lack the manpower to go after blocked individuals. Some buyers also sidestep the system with fake IDs. Others get surrogates to purchase the medicine for them, a process known as smurfing.
Less than 10 percent of sales have been blocked since the introduction of NPLEx at the start of the year.
Acquisto said once sales are blocked, law enforcement would be notified of who attempted to purchase the medication and can pursue an investigation.
He said he spoke to officers who claim they have been able to uncover a large percentage of meth labs as a result of using information provided by NPLEx.
Acquisto points to Drug Enforcement Administration statistics that indicate 11 of the 17 states that use NPLEx have significantly decreased lab numbers.