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State says new law helping in battle against smurfing
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Tennessee’s newly implemented law to block the sale of pseudoephedrine used in the production of meth has prevented 4,993 boxes of over-the-counter cold medication from hitting the street in one month.
That’s the information being released by state lawmakers about the new system that’s been in place since Jan. 1.
Cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, such as Advil Cold & Sinus, Claritin-D and Sudafed, has been behind pharmacy counters since 2004. The problem was pharmacies were unable to communicate with one another so meth-makers could travel from pharmacy to pharmacy to stockpile  pseudoephedrine in a process called “smurfing.”
In January, the state required all pharmacies to start entering pseudoephedrine purchases into a computer database that keeps up-to-the minute information on who is buying pseudoephedrine and where.
If a customer buys a pseudoephedrine product at Walgreens, it will show up in the system by the time that person tries to buy another pseudoephedrine product just a minute away at Stewart Pharmacy.
“It’s definitely helping and the database will catch people who are smurfing,” said state Rep. Charles Curtiss. “The problem is 50 percent of our population can be in another state in about 30 minutes. They can go across the state line, buy their pseudoephedrine, and bring it back here.”
The border problem notwithstanding, Tennessee’s meth offender registry contains the names of 2,354 people who, due to previous meth-related offenses, are not permitted to purchase medicines containing pseudoephedrine. In January, the database kept 111 of those offenders from making 222 pseudoephedrine purchases.
Tennessee is one of only 17 states that uses the database system, which is called the National Precursor Log Exchange.
“It’s working, but we’re looking to get more participation from border states,” said state Rep. Judd Matheny. “Because of its success, we’re looking at carrying this over to prescription drugs and requiring physicians to check the database and pharmacists to check the database to make sure they aren’t filling redundant prescriptions.”
Nestor Stewart, owner of Stewart Pharmacy, says the computer database isn’t difficult to use, although it is a bit time consuming. Information that must be entered includes name, address, phone number, number of tablets, and driver license number.
“If you’re fast on keying that stuff in, it will take six to seven minutes,” said Stewart, who indicated the sale of cold medicine with pseudoephedrine is on a steep decline. “Overall, we’ve seen a real drop in people who even ask for that medication anymore. The use of it has really diminished, and some pharmacists don’t even carry it anymore. Our usage has almost gone down completely.”
Stewart said his employees take time to know their customers and they can usually spot someone who comes in looking to buy pseudoephedrine for meth-making purposes. He says in those circumstances, the easiest thing to do is to say they don’t carry those products.
As for Tennessee’s prescription pain pill problem, Stewart says he can see first-hand the rise in popularity of those drugs.
“With the way it’s being dispensed nowadays, it makes you wonder what did we as human beings do before the days of morphine and hydrocodone?” asked Stewart. “There are too many people registered to prescribe these drugs and that makes it harder to control. If you look at what it’s leading to, family relationships are being broken and people are losing the initiative to be productive citizens. It’s absolutely a problem.”
Matheny says legislation will be introduced this session aimed at extending the computer database requirements to apply to prescription painkillers as well.