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System Reducing Meth Labs

While methamphetamine continues to be a problem in Pettis County and statewide, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) has applauded the latest results of the pseudoephedrine blocking system in Missouri.

Data released by the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), which automatically blocks unlawful pseudoephedrine sales and helps law enforcement track down offenders, shows the technology in Missouri blocked the sale of more than 19,030 boxes of medicine containing pseudoephedrine during the first seven months of 2014.

This prevented more than 47,601 grams from potential diversion by meth criminals, according to a NADDI press release. Additionally, when compared to the same period in 2013, Missouri sold 13.67 percent fewer boxes of pseudoephedrine and reduced the number of individual purchasers by 10.44 percent.

Pettis County Sheriff and President of the Missouri Sheriffs Association Kevin Bond said he also agrees with the NADDI that the NPLEx is an effective tool and has helped reduce the number of clandestine laboratories locally and statewide.

“The precursor law has been in effect for several years and has had a dramatic effect,” Bond said. “Criminals are always one step ahead of the game, or it seems like it, but the NPLEx automated system allows us to track on a proactive basis if we know someone is trying to acquire pseudoephedrine through multiple people or multiple sources.”

Reducing the number of laboratories has many benefits. Some of the most dangerous aspects of methamphetamine are inherent in its production. Volatile chemicals are used, often resulting in explosions, fires and dangerous fumes that can leave a structure uninhabitable. Curbing local production of the drug has diminished these incidents.

“We have over the past years seen a reduction in the number of meth labs that we are having to clean up and that we are finding in Pettis County as well as across Missouri,” Bond said. “There are several reasons for that and one is the NPLEx system. It certainly discourages the purchasing or acquisition of methamphetamine precursors.”

Nevertheless, Bond said abuse continues to be a problem as much of the “homemade” meth formerly used in Missouri is being replaced by higher quality methamphetamine produced in Mexico.

“We now have ‘better’ or produced meth from Mexico and other areas. The quality just surpasses anything that can be done in a mom-and-pop lab,” Bond said. “What we are seeing now is more traditional enforcement of methamphetamine and that is through interdiction efforts as well as arresting those in possession or dealers.

“Because of the supply and demand, in that you have a much larger amount coming in from other areas, that reduces the number of people making their own. If they are it’s generally in smaller amounts.”

While it seems NPLEx is effective according to the new data, Bond said the reduction in local labs can also be attributed to better enforcement — the formation of local and regional task forces — better investigation of secondary crime, better intelligence gathering and communication, interdiction on the roadways, and education.

“Our height in manufacturing here was in 2002-2003. Then we hit a plateau from there,” Bond said. “That’s about the time you began to see drug task forces standing up on a large scale and attacking the problem. So actually, you saw the number of meth labs increase enforcement wise, but I don’t know that it was any more prevalent than in the 2002-2003 time period. Since that time we have seen a leveling off and decrease in meth labs.”

The NPLEx statistics come from an Aug. 20 press release where NADDI Executive director Charles F. Cichon also issued a statement lauding the effectiveness of the NPLEx in Missouri.

“Without question, NPLEx is helping Missouri achieve impressive progress in the fight to curb meth production,” Cichon said. “These convincing new statistics show just how effective this system is at preventing potential meth cooks from acquiring the ingredients they need to make this terrible drug. As more law enforcement officials become familiar with the full potential of this system, the state will only continue to see progress.

“Moreover, the success of NPLEx affords Missouri lawmakers the opportunity to tackle other aspects of the state’s meth problem, including drug addiction, demand and the increase in Mexican-made meth.”

Missouri lawmakers have tried to tackle other aspects of the problem before, but often found legislative change daunting as the focus was on requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine. This put legitimate over the counter users of pseudoephedrine at odds with those in favor of regulations that are more stringent.

State Rep. Stanley Cox attempted to introduce legislation to change the law regarding the sale of pseudoephedrine, without requiring a prescription to make a purchase. The bill passed in the house, but died in the Missouri Senate at the end of the last legislative session.

HB 218 would have allowed over the counter sales, but limited the amounts. It would have allowed pharmacists to refuse a sale, prevented convicted drug felons from a purchase and created a state database that works in conjunction with NPLEx and other systems.

“I filed it as an alternative to the movement to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine,” Cox said. “When they did that about close to 100 percent of all the methamphetamine that was consumed in Missouri was manufactured in Missouri. Nowadays, according to authorities, it’s imported from the Mexican border area. So No. 1 is, would requiring a prescription even have much effect on the production of methamphetamine?”

He said he also felt requiring a prescription would make it difficult on people who are simply suffering from a cold or allergy and are purchasing pseudoephedrine for its intended purpose.

“Pseudoephedrine is in fact used by law abiding citizens to treat colds and allergies. By doing this, what you are doing is requiring everybody to go to a physician to get pseudoephedrine,” Cox said. “Most doctors oppose it because they say it would produce a ‘sniffle’ clinic. Every time you had a sniffle, you would have to go to a doctor to get pseudoephedrine if that was your preferred treatment.”