“The program should be up and running soon—hopefully within the next few days,” Pell City Police narcotics investigator Richard Woods said.
Woods said the new program, the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, provides real-time tracking of pseudoephedrine sales across the nation.
“Any place that sells pseudoephedrine products retail is required to use that system,” he said. “We call it Meth Check, because we will use the program to check for people purchasing pseudoephedrine for the manufacturing of methamphetamine.”
Woods said the system, which started Jan. 1, will block sales at the pharmacy if the sale would exceed the federal limit of nine grams of pseudoephedrine within a 30-day period.
“The Alabama limit is six grams within a 30-day period,” he said. “And both federal and Alabama limits purchases to 3.6 grams in a day.”
Woods said the new tracking system will save the narcotics officers many hours of work.
“Typically we go to each pharmacy in Pell City once a month to get logs of who purchased pseudoephedrine,” he said. “Pell City has three major pharmacies that provide a minimum of 100 pages a month each, plus all the smaller pharmacies.”
Woods said narcotics investigators have to visually go through the purchase logs, which are not in alphabetical order, and then compare and tally purchases.
“It’s very time-consuming,” he said.
Woods said a meth manufacturer will often use a number of individuals to purchase pseudoephedrine products.
“The average price of a box of pseudoephedrine sold to a meth manufacturer is $50 a box,” he said. “And that’s just the average. Some of the people providing pseudoephedrine, which is called smurfing, trade it out for finished meth product.”
Woods said smurfing can be very profitable.
“You have several people all in one car, and they will take a day and travel to numerous local cities buying a box of pseudoephedrine in each city,” he said. “They will spend about $40 in gas to buy 12 boxes, which would get them about $600 each.”
Woods said NPLEx will stop those “smurfs” from going from city-to-city and different pharmacies buying pseudoephedrine.
“This will prevent them from purchasing over the federal limit—no matter where they go,” he said.
Woods said pseudoephedrine cases continue to be an ongoing problem.
“The cases haven’t slowed down, but NPLEx will help with that too,” he said. “We can input names for a watch list, then when that person tries to purchase pseudoephedrine, we will receive an email alert to where the person is trying to make that purchase.”
Woods said warrants were issued for approximately 60 pseudoephedrine cases in 2010.
“We had about 10 felony cases,” he said. “The first conviction of illegal purchase of pseudoephedrine is a Class C misdemeanor, and the second and subsequent convictions are Class C felonies. We see a lot of repeat offenders, and there are numerous ongoing investigations.”
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.