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A Sensible Approach to Reducing Meth Labs

Electronic tracking of purchases targets criminals, not cold sufferers

WEST Virginia has a meth lab problem. People home-brew methamphetamine using toxic substances that can lead to chemical contamination, fires and explosions.

Rival plans are now before legislators to prevent drug abusers from buying cold remedies that contain pseudoephedrine to make methamphetamine.

One strategy would require cold sufferers to get prescriptions for over-the-counter cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine. The other plan would stop only suspicious purchasers.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin favors the latter plan. He would make West Virginia the 20th state to use the NPLEx, a real-time tracking system that can stop drug abusers’ purchases of pseudoephedrine.
Pharmaceutical companies would provide the computer tracking system at no cost.

Delegate Don Perdue, a pharmacist and chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Committee, and Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, a physician, favor requiring prescriptions for those cold remedies.

That approach inconveniences law-abiding people, not just meth cookers. Only two states, Oregon and Mississippi, have adopted the prescription approach.

Nineteen states use a real-time, stop-sale system called the National Precursor Log Exchange.

It logs all purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine. Pharmacies stop sales to known abusers and to people who try to exceed the legal limit. Furthermore, law enforcement can study the data on repeated attempts to purchase to track down meth labs.

The system is interactive across state lines.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which originally supported the prescription approach, later rescinded that and supported the adoption of NPLEx “as a way of allowing access to legitimate consumers and giving law enforcement officials a tool to combat methamphetamine production.”
Lawmakers should give NPLEx a chance. If it does not work, stronger measures can always be discussed.