Pubdate: Sat, 16 Oct 2010
Source: Dothan Eagle, The (AL)
Copyright: 2010 The Dothan Eagle
Author: Ebony Horton


Local law enforcement are hopeful a state law expected to be fully
implemented by the start of next year will curb the amount of
methamphetamine manufactured and used throughout the state.

How effective the law will be, however, is yet to be

By January, pharmacy sales in Alabama of pseudoephedrine - a
decongestant drug like Sudafed that can be used as a precursor
chemical to make meth - are expected to be tracked online through an
electronic database. The goal is to cut off the supply of a key
ingredient in methamphetamine, which the federal Drug Enforcement
Agency called the number one drug threat in Alabama for the second
year in a row.

According to the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, 11
states have implemented the online tracking system.

According to the Alabama Retail Association, the alternative to online
tracking would have been to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine

A prescription had been required for the drug through 1976, when the
Food and Drug Administration approved pseudoephedrine for purchase
without a prescription, according to the drug control policy office.

Drugs containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine
were placed behind pharmacy retail counters after Congress passed the
Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, which required
pharmacists to log the transactions and sell only a limited amount to
a purchaser per day.

Pharmacies throughout Alabama kept the transactions on paper logs that
were accessible to law enforcement.

The drug policy office reported there may have been some correlation
between the restrictions and a decrease in meth use, but the office
also reported an increase of 254 percent in meth lab incidents from
March 2007 and March 2009 in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi
and Oklahoma.

In Oregon, where the drugs are by prescription only, the drug control
policy council reported half as many arrests between the time the law
was implemented in 2006 and the year 2009.

Jimmy Culbreath, commander of the Wiregrass Violent Crimes and Drug
Task Force narcotics division, said online tracking will be a
necessary tool in the task force's effort to drive down meth production.

The tracking is also expected to cut down on "smurfing," which happens
when people go from pharmacy to pharmacy in an attempt to collect
enough pseudoephedrine to sell to lab operators or to make the drugs

"With the electronic aspect, we will be able to form more cases faster
than we would by going through paper logs, and the electronic tracking
also links us to other agencies so we can keep track of who
specifically is buying no matter where they go. In our eyes it's a
beautiful thing," he said. "Of course you will still have problems
with people who formulate false IDs and things like that to get the
drug, but the online tracking is definitely a move in the right direction."

Ozark Police Chief Tony Spivey said the limitations and online
tracking could also make for a better prosecutorial tool in the courtroom.

"It is truly unfortunate that society has reached a point that
legislation such as this has to become a reality, but this is a
driving factor that again reveals how prevalent this drug has become,"
he said.

Dale Pharmacy co-owner and pharmacist Cindy Cannon said the electronic
tracking will make it easier for the pharmacy to track the
pseudoephedrine sales.

"Right now with each individual store keeping its own log, then there
is no centralized database in the state. You really have no way of
knowing if someone has just come from a pharmacy elsewhere and
purchased the maximum per day before coming into our pharmacy to buy
more," she said.

Circle Pharmacy Operations Manager Jason Scott said the pharmacy began
in 2006 tracking with paper logs and copies of buyers' driver
licenses, but that the pharmacy now uses a computer program on its
point of sale system.

The electronic tracking will make the database more readily available
for law enforcement but it could affect timing for both pharmacies and
customers, he said.

"It will slow down the check out process and may cause an increase in
price to make up for the extra time needed to 'log the sale' on the
new database," Scott said.

But Scott said there was no reason for anyone to want to stock up on
drugs containing pseudoephedrine, so it was not likely a legitimate
cold or allergy sufferer would be adversely affected by electronic

"We have to remember that with a problem like this, we all have a
responsibility. Not just pharmacies, but consumers as well. We have to
all do our part to fight the problem because it affects us all, even
if it means regular visits to the pharmacy," he said.
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