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Good News In Alabama’s Drug War: Anti-Meth Legislation Is Working: Guest Opinion

When it comes to the war on drugs, it seems like all we ever hear about is bad news. And while we still have a long way to go, it’s important that we stop and recognize successes when they present themselves. In that spirit, all of us should be encouraged by the recent progress made in the battle against one of the worst drugs around: methamphetamine (meth).

In 2012, I was proud to sponsor comprehensive anti-meth legislation in Montgomery that eventually became the toughest law of its kind in the United States.  Our law created a statewide drug offender database and cracked down on drug paraphernalia.  It also placed responsible limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine (PSE)-based medicines that any individual can purchase in a month and year.

PSE is the active ingredient found in many common cold and allergy medicines sold in pharmacies and grocery stores.  When used for their intended purpose – as they are by the vast majority of Alabamians – these medicines provide safe and effective remedies for everything from seasonal allergies to the common cold.  Unfortunately, in the hands of a criminal, PSE can also be misused to make meth.

We made a commitment to keeping PSE medicines away from meth criminals, while still keeping them on the shelves for the law-abiding citizens who use them every day. This included working with fellow legislators to keep PSE medicines available over the counter, verses by prescription only.  Part of our approach involved imposing limits, so that an individual could purchase enough to get through any tough flu season but no one could get excessive amounts.

Also essential was the integration of Alabama into the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) system, another component of our 2012 anti-meth bill.  This tapped Alabama into a network in 30 states that use the system to automatically and instantaneously block and track all PSE purchases.  If an individual attempts to purchase more than the limit of PSE medicines, the sale is blocked and a notice is passed on to law enforcement (in our state, we send NPLEx data to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center).

And NPLEx is working.

New data from the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI), which studied the NPLEx system around the country, shows considerable improvement for Alabama.  In 2014 so far, we’ve blocked the sale of nearly 45,000 boxes of PSE products, down from over 67,000 during the same period last year.  That cuts our numbers by more than 33 percent, giving Alabama the third-largest decrease of all the NPLEx states.  Using this system has helped keep almost 111,000 grams of potential meth ingredients away from cooking labs this year.

Of course, criminals will do their best to find ways around the law.  The meth underworld developed a practice called "smurfing," where many different individuals purchase PSE-based medicine legally, then all turn around and pass it on to the same meth cook.  So, we got one step ahead.  Smurfing is now a felony in Alabama, so anyone who purchases PSE products on behalf of a meth dealer had better think very carefully about the consequences.

Cutting off the flow of would-be ingredients to meth labs is proving successful.  The Alabama Drug Abuse Task Force has reported that the number of labs busted in our state dropped from 720 in 2010 to just 154 last year.  Our state and local law enforcement officers are working as hard as ever – these numbers mean that meth labs are effectively being driven out of business in Alabama.  That’s the way to kick this drug out of our communities.

Thanks to law enforcement’s hard work to put force behind our tough 2012 law and the NPLEx system keeping track of potential meth ingredients, meth crime in Alabama has taken a major hit.  But we need to press home that advantage.  We should be proud of victories in the battles so far, but the war is still going on.  Together, we can show meth criminals across the state that we have the will to win.