The laws of many states, and now the federal government, restrict the sale of pseudoephedrine by limiting the amount purchased per month and by requiring photo identification and the signing of a log at the pharmacy or retail outlet. Of course, it is no secret that this is in place to help curb the domestic production of methamphetamine, since pseudoephedrine is a necessary precursor.
This new regulation has drastically reduced the number of methamphetamine laboratories in some areas of the United States. In my own county in southwest Ohio, we discovered 23 labs in 2005 and only 4 in 2006. All 4 of the labs in 2006 were found prior to the state's pseudoephedrine law taking effect. In early 2007, however, we encountered 3 separate methamphetamine labs, 75% of the total of all of last year.
At the same time that the number of labs was increasing, one of my undercover officers began to buy small amounts of methamphetamine and large amounts of pseudoephedrine products from a local gas station/convenience store owner. He was the co-owner of a busy store near one of our major interstates and, through a relative, had access to 3 more stores in the region. During the sales, we made it clear that we were buying the pseudoephedrine products to manufacture meth.We were also paying almost 10 times the amount for the products than what you could buy them for at any pharmacy.
At the time of his arrest and the service of search warrants at the store and his residence, we found over 45,000 tablets of pseudoephedrine products and discovered that he and his relative had ordered well over 100,000 tablets over the past months in the 4 stores. When we requested the sign-in logs for each of the stores, the 2 store owners were unable to produce any logs for the past 9 months, when we had documented proof that these pills had been delivered.
In checking with the out-of-state distributor, we found documentation of large weekly deliveries to each of the stores, with no real scrutiny except the signature of the store owners on a document advising them of the restrictions on the distribution of pseudoephedrine products. The number of pseudoephedrine sales we could document was estimated to have been able to produce several kilos of methamphetamine, with the ultimate street value of well over $500,000.
So who is at fault here, and how can we thwart this kind of illegal activity? Ultimately, of course, it is the store owners who are committing the criminal activity, but the distributors need to accept some responsibility when no checks and balances are in place, especially when sales for particular stores are not in line with other establishments. Some duty exists to report this kind of excessive purchase of this product.
Law enforcement also may take some blame here for not checking sign-in log records, but Ohio made this crime a very low misdemeanorwith an almost impossible task of checking these records in stores. In addition, our area of the country is bordered by Indiana and Kentucky, making the checking of these records even more difficulteven if the time and personnel were available. This creates some interest in computerizing pseudoephedrine salespossibly by incorporating them into prescription-monitoring programs.
I would ask all of you to be serious about your pseudoephedrine log and educate the people who have access to these products behind the counter. Pseudoephedrine products are now worth much more than their retail value, making clandestine sales a temptation for some employees. Know what you have ordered and that your retail sales match the amount that comes into your pharmacy every month. Do not take discrepancies lightly, and either investigate them or notify someone who has that responsibility. Because of the devastating effects of methamphetamine addiction, keeping track of pseudoephedrine tablets in your pharmacy is an important taskone that very well may save a life.
John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 38-year veteran of law enforcement. Cmdr Burke also is the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.