By Lori Kersey
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials hope to have a statewide pseudoephedrine-tracking system in place by October 19, a little more than two months before the required implementation date of Jan. 1.
Officials with Appriss Inc., a Louisville, Ky.-based company implementing the National Precursor Log Exchange system throughout the state, met Wednesday with members of West Virginia's law enforcement, medical and pharmaceutical communities.
The NPLEx system will allow retailers to block illegal purchases of pseudoephedrine products and will notify police when customers have exceeded their purchase limit. Pseudoephedrine is a popular cold and allergy medication that's also used to make methamphetamine illegally.
The new tracking system is part of bill that's meant to combat the state's substance abuse problem. The pharmaceutical industry is paying for the tracking system.
The NPLEx system already has been implemented in 23 other states. The company estimates that by the end of the year, 50,000 pharmacies across the country will use NPLEx, said Charity Gavin, the implementation manager for the system.
With the NPLEx system in place, store clerks will know within about 30 seconds whether a person is legally allowed to purchase medicines containing pseudoephedrine or whether they've exceeded their limit, Gavin said.
Under a new state law, people are limited to purchasing 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine per day and 7.2 grams per month. The limit had previously been 9 grams a month.
As of Jan. 1, retailers will be required to enter pseudoephedrine sales into the NPLEx system. If a sale is denied, store clerks will have the option to stop the sale, retry the sale with a lesser amount of the drug or "override" the sale's denial if they feel threatened by the customer, Gavin said. Any time a person exceeds their limit of pseudoephedrine, law enforcement will be notified, she said.
When questioned about the override feature of the system, Jim Acquisto, an Appriss representative, said federal law required the company to offer that feature as a safety precaution.
Clerks could allow a sale if they feel it's necessary to defuse an irate customer.
"We have no authority to tell a clerk they can't do that," he said. "It's up to law enforcement to determine if they're threatened or if they're selling to their boyfriend."
By law, only law enforcement officials will have access to the information gathered within the system. Physicians will not have access, Acquisto said.
Thom Stevens, president of Government Relations Specialists, a hospital and medical services consulting firm, said the medical community had initially wanted to address the pseudoephedrine problem by requiring prescriptions for their sale.
But Stevens supports the law as it stands, and the provision that set up the NPLEx tracking system, he said.
"The purpose of this provision of the bill is very positive, and we support the governor's initiative," Stevens said.
Bridget Lambert, president of the West Virginia Retailers Association, said a new requirement that pharmacists offer counseling to patients will require a potentially huge overhaul in the way pharmacies sell the products.
Pharmacists are required to offer counseling to patients who buy pseudoephedrine, but are not required to keep records each time they offer counseling to patients.
Still, it would be in the pharmacies' best interest to do so, Lambert said. She supports the use of the NPLEx system.
"We want to be a part of the solution," she said.
Carlos Gutierrez, director of government affairs for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said he fully supports the use of the NPLEx system.
"With this new law, the average consumer won't see a difference," he said. "All this will do is, if you exceed your limit, you won't be able to purchase."