NPLEx Tracking System Shows Progress in Stalling Meth-Makers

West Virginia retailers say drug dealers are having a tougher time getting their hands on over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine since the Mountain State became one of the 33 states using NPLEx, a real-time electronic tracking system monitoring sales.

NPLEx, more formally known as the National Precursor Log Exchange, is a real-time electronic logging and compliance system tracking sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications containing cold medicines such as pseudoephedrine, which are used to manufacture crystal meth. NPLEx allows pharmacists to scan a buyer’s identifying information, then electronically search that person’s buying records in the 33 participating states. If a buyer has exceeded the allowed purchase limit, that person will be blocked from making another purchase for a set amount of time.

In West Virginia, individuals cannot purchase more than 3.6 grams per day, 7.2 grams per 30 days or 48 grams in a 12-month period without a prescription.

Since the tracking system was launched in West Virginia at the end of 2013, West Virginia Retailers Association President Bridget Lambert says the input system blocked the sale of 182,000 grams of pseudoephedrine — almost 51,000 boxes. Sales in West Virginia of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine have dropped by more than 50 percent since the state started using NPLEx.

Nationally, NPLEx has been instrumental in blocking the sale of more than 25 million grams of pseudoephedrine.

“We believe it has been effective at the pharmacy level in identifying and controlling how much product is available to consumers,” Lambert said. “And it’s been a vital tool to our pharmacists. It’s much easier than the old paper logs. People who were accessing that product now have a harder time accessing it; NPLEx is blocking it from their use; they can’t get it as easy as they used to.”

NPLEx was developed by Appriss Health, a Kentucky company that provides the software free of charge to agencies, as well as pharmacies, retailers and law enforcement personnel in states adopting methamphetamine precursor legislation. It was developed by Appriss to comply with the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act enacted in 2006.

Identifying information is scanned in and then NPLEx uses it to track that individuals buying information throughout the state and country. If the buyer has exceeded their purchase limit, additional sales will be blocked.

The system also allows police to track purchases, individual purchasing histories and even monitor purchasing patterns in the area to identify potential associates.

“With the NPLEx system, an officer who has been trained and has the proper equipment can sit in a parking lot and run purchases made in a particular store as they come up in the system,” Lambert said. “If they’re watching someone who they suspect has a meth lab or if they’re watching the neighborhood because of a high volume of sales, the officer has full access to who is purchasing it and what time they purchased it.

“Then they can go in and track the history of that individual. It’s phenomenal what the system can do for law enforcement. And before, you’d hear about people in buying rings going from store to store to buy pseudoephedrine products — NPLEx put a halt to that. They can input search parameters — identify individuals purchasing the same amount in a certain period. It gives officers a footprint to check and see if there’s a buying ring.”

The West Virginia Retailers Association partnered with the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators a few years back to train police in the use of NPLEx.

“We trained state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, city police, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, a whole spectrum of officers. Our goal is that they go back to their respective agencies and train other officers,” Lambert said, adding police utilization “has made the program more successful and a valuable tool for them to utilize.”

“It was very cumbersome (in the old days) to pull out a notebook, take down a person’s driver’s license number and write it all down,” she added. “The electronic system lets pharmacists scan the information in at the point of sale just from their driver’s license. It’s made it much easier for our pharmacies to track products.

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