Officers learn of system to hinder meth production

WHEELING – A tracking system being used to battle the meth problem in the Ohio Valley is working, and is also setting trends for its success rate, officials said Tuesday.

Northern Panhandle law enforcement officers convened at Oglebay Park’s Wilson Lodge on Tuesday to learn about NPLEx, a pseudoephedrine tracking system designed to hinder meth production. Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in some over-the-counter drugs needed to produce methamphetamine.

Officers from the Marshall County Drug Task Force, and municipal departments in Harrisville, Wellsburg, Beech Bottom, New Cumberland and Wheeling learned how NPLEx connects retailers and police and monitors pseudoephedrine transactions in real time. Police can sit in the parking lot of a target pharmacy or retail store and follow a potential suspect’s purchases as they are made.

NPLEx can also block suspect customers from buying the drugs if the tracking system detects abnormal buying habits.

Scott Kendall, a narcotics detective for the Auburn, Ala., police department, has used the system effectively in his investigations.

“We can actually watch a suspect move from pharmacy to pharmacy and in some cases we can confront them the moment they leave the store,” he said.

Kendall said NPLEx has become evidence in the criminal court system.

“The system records the suspect’s purchases in real time and we can use in-store surveillance footage to strengthen the case even more,” he said.

Kendall said representatives from Appriss, the company that operates NPLEx, often appear in court as expert witnesses for the prosecution to solidify the state’s case.

West Virginia Retailers Association President Bridget Lambert said new data released by Appriss indicate that through the second quarter of 2014, electronic technology in West Virginia blocked more than 6,150 boxes of medicine containing pseudoephedrine from being sold, preventing more than 16,344 grams from potentially being diverted by meth criminals.

NPLEx is being used in 30 states, including all states bordering West Virginia with the exception of Maryland. It has been in the Mountain State since January 2013.

“The latest NPLEx statistics show just how effective Governor Tomblin’s substance abuse legislation has been at tracking suspected meth cooks and curbing supply of and access to potential precursors,” she said.

Lambert said most remarkable are the year-to-year results for 2014 compared to 2013. Sales of PSE are down over 35 percent and the number of individuals buying PSE is down over 20 percent.

“These downward sales trends are the most significant of any NPLEx-utilizing state in the country,” she said. “Most importantly, the law seems to be having a positive impact on meth labs as the state is reporting a 27 percent reduction in meth lab incidents for the first five months of 2014.”

Lambert said the system has led the way for five states to adopt meth offender registries. They include Kentucky, Illinois, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Michigan will start a registry in January. Alabama has a broader Drug Offender Registry.

Tuesday’s training session was co-hosted by the West Virginia Retailer’s Association, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association and the West Virginia Municipal League.