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Anti-meth training offers state look at NPLEx system

1.9.15 -Richard Goad, Cleveland Daily Banner

Law enforcement personnel from across Tennessee participated in a Thursday training session on use of the National Precursor Log Exchange system at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, in an effort to fight methamphetamine.

The NPLEx system is a computer-tracking program designed to log every purchase nationwide of pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in the production of meth, as a tool to combat the rise in production of the illicit drug.

Pseudoephedrine is found in many over-the-counter allergy medications, prompting federal and state legislators to pass laws setting limits on the amount that can be purchased.

Despite the restrictions “smurfers,” individuals tasked by meth producers to buy medications containing pseudoephedrine, are still able to purchase substantial amounts of the drug by crossing county and state lines.

Appriss, a technology company based out of Kentucky, developed the NPLEx system in 2006 to counter the geographical issue.

“The 2006 ‘Combating Meth Epidemic Act’ passed by Congress put limits on consumer purchases of pseudoephedrine,” said Krista McCormick, NPLEx account manager with Appriss. “But ‘smurfers’ and cooks discovered loopholes by crossing state and county lines to make purchases. The law, initially, caused a deterrent … but there was no way to proactively block purchases or enforce limits, so our company came up with the idea to create one national database,” McCormick explained.

The system was first implemented in Appriss’ home state of Kentucky in 2008.

“Now, all pseudoephedrine transactions, in 48 out of 50 states, are being reported to one database,” McCormick informed.

Sheriff Eric Watson, who was in attendance during Thursday’s session, weighed in on the usefulness of the NPLEx system and stressed the need for its broadened implementation.

“I’m a big supporter of NPLEx,” Watson began. “As well all know, meth production and abuse continues to be a serious problem in Southeast Tennessee and Bradley County.”

Watson praised the efforts of local law enforcement departments who combat the spread of meth, but emphasized more effort is needed to curtail the dangerous substance.

“Our law enforcement professionals have made great progress, but there are still too many meth criminals on the streets. I think we can all agree that there is more we can do to tackle this serious problem,” Watson stated.

NPLEx has been operational in the state since 2012, when the General Assembly voted to have pseudoephedrine purchases logged electronically at the point-of-sale.

However, Watson pointed out the NPLEx system has been underutilized.

“I think NPLEx is a very effective tool, and we all need to be using it. The reason why we’re doing this session, why we invited all these agencies to take part today, is to let them know this tool is available. The lack of training, the lack of knowledge (of NPLEx) is the reason I feel, as sheriff, that we haven’t caught more of these meth offenders — we’ve never had this available for training purposes, to my knowledge,” Watson pained.

The emphasis of the demonstration and training session was to not only highlight the efficiency and utility of NPLEx, but to show that it actually works.

A key figure underlined by McCormick, and reiterated by an Appriss press release, was that in 2014, Tennessee’s real-time, stop-sale system blocked more than 158,048 grams of pseudoephedrine from potentially ending up in the hands of meth criminals.

“Already this year, Tennessee’s NPLEx system has blocked over 70,000 grams,” according to the Appriss release.

McCormick added that, since NPLEx’s inception and subsequent initiation in 2008, “Almost [15 million] grams of pseudoephedrine have been diverted nationally.”

Citing further worthy attributes of the tracking system, McCormick clarified that NPLEx is “absolutely free (to taxpayers).”

“When a state passes legislation requiring electronic tracking, and for those transactions to be reported to NPLEx, it’s free for the entire state, their law enforcement and retailers,” she said.

McCormick said many states had budget restraints which initially slowed the implementation of NPLEx.

“Money became an issue, so we approached the manufacturers of pseudoephedrine-containing products. We asked for their partnership, asking them to think of the social responsibility they should take,” McCormick said.

In 2009, those manufacturers came on board, and NPLEx has been made available, free of charge, in every state since.

Detective Scott Kendall of the Auburn (Ala.) Police Department was part of the presentation displaying the practicality of the system.

Kendall pointed out key features that make it easy for law enforcement to hunt down potential meth producers.

“This is one of the easiest ways to track suspects,” Kendall said. “You can begin with something as simple as a name.”

From a simple name search, NPLEx provides specifics on when, where and how much pseudoephedrine was purchased. Also included in NPLEx reports are numbers of purchase activities and blocked transactions, a vital tool, according to Kendall.

“NPLEx is one more piece of the puzzle in building a case, one more piece of evidence that builds a successful prosecution. I’ll put a ‘watch’ on someone, and monitor their purchasing activity, to get a feel for what they’re doing. I look for consistent blocks. That’s a red flag for me,” Kendall explained. “When I see someone blocked multiple times in a day, week or month, I see that pattern.”

Kendall added there should be no worries for those law-abiding citizens who may not be aware of the limits on the purchase of the drugs.

Tennessee’s limits for pseudoephedrine-based drugs are 5.76 grams within a 30-day span or no more than 28.8 grams over a period of 365 days.

“There are people like me or my aunt who have allergies who use these in a legal manner,” he said. “It would not be unusual for an average person to get a block. But, it can be seen that is not the type person we are going to go after.”

The NPLEx system offers a “watch” facet that allows for real-time updates on a targeted suspect’s purchasing habits, even facilitating communication between police personnel tracking the same suspect.

“This system is very valuable for police officers who are on the frontline in the battle against meth,” Watson said. “I’m here to tell you how excited I am to have everyone learn about this great system, which I truly believe is helping us slowly but surely win the battle against meth,” Watson said. “After these sessions, I’m hopeful that law enforcement across the state will be able to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues about NPLEx.

Watson concluded, “NPLEx can be even more effective if more officers commit to using it regularly to stop meth crime at its source. That’s why we’re here today.”