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New law helping fight record number of meth labs, Cooper says

Release date: 1/12/2012

System that bars illegal purchases of drug’s key ingredient already working

Raleigh: A new law to help fight methamphetamine labs has already stopped more than 1,600 illegal purchases of the key ingredient needed to make the drug, Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.
 
Under the new law, which took effect January 1, North Carolina pharmacies are using an electronic tracking system to log all purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine, found in common cold remedies and the key ingredient needed to make meth. State Bureau of Investigation agents and other officers can analyze information from the tracking system to help identify potential suspects based on repeated attempts to make illegal buys.
 
“We’re making it more difficult for criminals to get the ingredients they need to make meth, and easier for law enforcement to find them and shut down their dangerous labs,” Cooper said. 
 
The electronic tracking system, called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), is expected to curtail meth labs, which reached a record number in North Carolina last year as a new method for making the drug spreads. SBI agents responded to 344 meth labs in 2011, compared to 235 labs busted in 2010 and 206 in 2009.
 
The NPLEx system makes it harder for meth cooks to skirt the law by shopping at multiple stores and crossing state lines. The system automatically lets the retailer know if the buyer has reached the legal limit for pseudoephedrine purchases so the store can stop the sale.
 
More than two-thirds of pharmacies in the state are now using the system, with more in the process of joining. So far this year, the new system has already blocked 1,669 questionable purchases of more than 2,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine in North Carolina. That’s enough pseudoephedrine to make approximately 3.8 kilos of meth.
 
“We’re using technology to stop meth makers from going from store to store or state to state to evade detection,” Cooper said. “This electronic tracking system allows us to join forces with other states so we can be even more effective in our fight against meth labs.” 

The system links North Carolina with 18 states across the country, including South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia.
 
North Carolina law limits purchases of products that contain pseudoephedrine to no more than two packages at once and no more than three packages within 30 days. Purchasers must show a photo ID and sign a log. The law also requires that all pills containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine be placed behind a pharmacy counter.
 
That state law, which Cooper won in 2005, helped reduce meth labs in North Carolina by more than 60 percent the following year. But lab busts have risen again as a new way of making meth, known as the one pot or shake and bake method, spreads across the state.
 
The North Carolina counties with the most meth lab busts in 2011 were: Burke (34 labs); Watauga (22 labs); Wayne (22 labs); Wilkes (19 labs); Duplin (16 labs); Anson (13 labs); and Johnston (13 labs). [Get details on meth lab busts in 2011 and previous years.]
 
Although the overall number of meth labs has increased, SBI agents report that approximately 50 percent of those busted in 2011 used the one pot method. One pot labs are generally used to make smaller amounts of meth for personal consumption, as compared to larger, traditional meth labs that can produce enough meth to sell, agents said.
 
One pot meth labs were first discovered in North Carolina in 2009. The one pot process is fast, easy to set up, and produces little waste or evidence for the cook to dispose of. Criminals can use the method to make meth in a two-liter plastic soda bottle using a small amount of pseudoephedrine. One pot labs are highly mobile and can operate in cars or other vehicles. 
 
“Thanks to tough laws and strong enforcement, we haven’t seen thousands of meth labs a year like other states have seen, but hundreds are still too many,” Cooper said. “Criminals continue to find ways to brew this deadly drug, and law enforcement is working harder and smarter to fight them.”
 
A new way to safely process hazardous waste from dismantled meth labs is also in the works, Cooper said.   Trained local officers will neutralize and package meth lab waste, which SBI agents will then transport to container sites managed by the SBI for pickup and destruction by a hazardous waste contractor. The container sites are expected to be up and running later next month.

Contact:  Noelle Talley (919) 716-6413