Making meth in Kansas and Missouri is about to get a lot harder, when computerized data tracking systems get installed in each and every one of their pharmacies. The Pharmaceutical Industry is going to gift each state with electronic tracking systems that will keep track of who may be buying pseudoephedrine-based products to manufacture methamphetamine. Additionally, the industry says they will also pick up the cost of training those who will use it. The cost of getting the electronic databases set up across the state of Kansas alone is estimated to be about $350,000.00. Estimates to get the electronic database systems started in Missouri is expected to be in the $800,000.00 range. The cost of upkeeping Missouri’s pseudoephedrine tracking system is expected to be about a half million dollars, according to Mike Boeger, an administrator with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
The new electronic databases will provide pharmacists and law enforcement with instant access to information about who is buying products containing pseudoephedrine, they will be able to keep meth cooks from buying a necessary ingredient to manufacture meth. The system will also make it a lot easier for law enforcement to investigate suspicious buying behavior. Although pharmacists and law enforcement may welcome the system with open arms, not everyone is happy about it. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) feels it is yet another invasion of a person’s privacy. However, until states are notified otherwise, many states are betting on the database system as a tool that will help them alleviate the devastation that meth labs are taking on their communities.
Which customers are buying what pseudoephedrine products, how often they’re buying them, how much they’re buying, when they’re buying them, and where they’re buying them, are questions that can all be answered with a simple search of the system. Anyone purchasing pseudoephedrine-containing medicines in Kansas and Missouri will soon have every purchase recorded in a computerized database, providing both pharmacists and law enforcement agents with potentially life-saving information.
The way the system works, buyers will have to swipe their driver’s license, anytime they want to buy a product containing pseudoephedrine. The system will automatically figure out if the buyer has purchased their alloted 9 grams a month of pseudoephedrine. It will also determine other problems, such as whether the driver’s license has been stolen. If there are any problems, the system denies the sale. The buyer will ten be given a transaction code and a phone number that they can call, to find out why their transaction was denied. Pharmacists won’t know the reason won’t be provided with thereason why the transaction was denied.
The slow economy and the influx of methamphetamine in to areas that never had a meth addiction problem before, has resulted in a resurgence of meth labs across the country. For states that do not have electronic databases in place, it’s been relatively easy for them to get around laws restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine. Meth cooks simply traveled between stores to buy up their legal limits and instructed others to do the same, while pharmacists recorded their names and license information on paper forms. The store-to-store pill shopping process is often referred to as “smurfing”.
Paper forms, while they record information about the buyer, have largely been more time consuming for law enforcement than they have been effective. In order for police to get information about the buyers, they would have too would have to go from store-to-store to get the information from a store’s logbook. In rural areas, that means paying someone to drive from store to store to get the information, which waste fuel, time, and money. Electronic tracking through a computer database, on the other hand, makes access to data, quick and easy, although the initial cost of setting up the system can a significant chunk out of state budget. When budgets are shrinking, like they are today, state’s have little choice but to put technology tools at the bottom of a state’s “must have” list. So, getting a free gift of electronic tracking from the pharmaceutical industry, when money is tight and meth labs are rising, makes the gift of technology tools to fight meth labs, a sweet deal for Kansas and Missouri.
If you’re thinking that there must be a string attached, you’re not alone. Critics say that the industry is only providing the systems to keep counties from making products containing pseudoephedrine in to prescription-only drugs. Washington County, Missouri and the state of Oregon have already done that. Critics say that the pharmaceutical industry fears that trend may increase, as cities, towns, counties, and state’s try to find a way to tackle their area meth lab problems. Helping police and pharmacists to keep their products available to the public without a prescription is a financial benefit that pharmaceutical companies, don’t want to lose. Many people who suffer from allergies and sinus problems or have children who do, agree with them.
Whether or not the electronic tracking databases help reduce the number of meth labs in the state of Kansas and Missouri, remains to be seen. Finding out who may be involved with operating a meth lab takes more than knowing what they’re doing. It requires sufficient numbers of law enforcement personnel to investigate and ultimately bring and end to their community’s meth lab problem. States will need to keep that in mind when thinking about laying off law enforcement officers. Smaller law enforcement teams can easily tip the meth lab problem in a meth cook’s favor. However, being able to watch the buying patterns of consumers, across multiple states who are already using the system, will certainly improve the ability of law enforcement and pharmacists to spot suspicious behavior.
So what happens after the electronic systems get up and running by the end of this year or the beginning of next year? Will meth cooks in Kansas and Missouri then go shopping in states that still use paper forms? Will meth cooks order products containing pseudoephedrine instead of taking a chance of having their names recorded in their state’s electronic database? I suspect that some hard-core cooks will certainly try to find ways around the electronic tracking systems. On a more positive note, some might get themselves checked in to a rehab program, a solution that will save their lives and the lives of other innocent people, including their own family, friends, and children.
Lambe, Joe, “Pharmaceutical industry finding will help fight meth labs in Missouri, Kansas”, Kansas City Star, 8/26/09, http://www.kansascity.com/105/story/1407865.html