State battles crystal meth production with tracking system

Crystal methamphetamine - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use
Crystal methamphetamine
— image credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

A new statewide tracking system monitors the sale of over-the-counter medicines that can be used in the production of methamphetamine. The system has stopped 13,300 sales of such medications in under nine months, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

Pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, the three ingredients often found in powerful cold medicines, are also among the primary ingredients needed to create meth.

According to the DOH, the tracking system that watches the purchase of medicines containing the aforementioned chemicals is run by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy. Known as the National Precursor Log Exchange, the system was activated in October. Washington was one of the early adopters of the new system.

From October 2011 to last month, the new system recorded 1,023,929 purchases and blocked 13,391 of those purchases. The number of blocked sales has risen monthly, according to the DOH.

State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky sees the new system as a powerful tool for combatting meth production.

"Our state was once called the 'poster child for the meth epidemic' and now we're recognized as a success story," Selecky said. "A decade ago, there were thousands of meth labs and dumps in our state. We can thank community action and legislation, including the new rules that created our tracking system, for turning the tide."

The use of the new system seems like a no-brainer because of an earlier Washington law passed at the height of the meth epidemic in the state.

That law required pharmacies and other retailers to record the name and address of the purchaser, along with a description of the product sold and the quantity of the product.

Previously, this information was recorded and not entered into a centralized database. Now, with the new tracking system, such information is recorded into a shared database in real-time, and is able to alert cashiers and pharmacists as to whether the person purchasing the products has exceeded the limit on purchases.

Those limits include no more than 3.6 grams of any of the substances in one purchase, or nine grams over a 30-day period. The new system alerts pharmacists and cashiers to whether the purchaser has bought any of the marked medications in another state.

Federal Way perspective

Locally, the real-time tracking system and the stricter purchasing laws have made a huge impact, according to Federal Way Police Det. Bryan Klingele.

Klingele works in the Special Investigations Unit, where his job focuses on narcotics.

"I would definitely say the methamphetamine labs are almost non-existent now because of the tracking system and having to have valid identification to buy those products," Klingele said. "They've definitely made a huge impact on methamphetamine production."

As a member of law enforcement, Klingele said he's aware that many view the ID requirement as onerous, but he feels it's an acceptable inconvenience.

"I realize it's an inconvenience to present identification to buy over-the-counter cold medication, but you have to realize the safety of the community is the driving force behind these statutes," he said. "The big picture is, the community is safer on a daily basis."




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