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Criminals buy cold remedies for the pseudoephedrine, which they use to make methamphetamine. Kansas pharmacists are fighting back with MethShield, an electronic program that tracks sales and catches illegal purchasers in the act. It even calls the cops.
The abuse of pseudoephedrine, a chemical commonly found in cold medicines, is a growing crime in the United States. Though federal, state, and local laws control the sales of pseudoephedrine, many individuals are still using more than the legal limit, and some are using it create methamphetamine - more commonly labeled as meth.
Recently laws have been put into place that require pseudoephedrine-based products to be kept behind the counter. Customers must sign a logbook and present a photo ID when purchasing these products. The logbook system is used in many states; nonetheless, it's not a strong tool for tracking pseudoephedrine sales or sharing real-time info between pharmacists, retailers, and law enforcement.
Kansas is the first state to launch a pilot program of MethShield, which was initially developed in Australia. The number of meth labs operating in the Australian state of Queensland, which is almost twice the size of Texas, decreased by 37 percent the first year that MethShield was implemented.
Kansas law enforcement officials have announced that the number of meth labs in their state has risen again. In July, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation uncovered 97 meth labs – the total number of such labs uncovered for all of 2007.
"Meth continues to be a terrible problem for Kansas," said Jeff Brandau, special agent in charge of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. He added that the number of meth labs being uncovered "reflects a troubling turnaround."
Kansas used to be one of the states that used the hand log system to track pseudoephedrine sales. However, it is now part of a 12-month pilot program in progress at 128 pharmacies and drugstores across 62 counties, all of which will offer real-time reports on the sales of medications used to make meth. Now, if a customer walks into a Kansas pharmacy and purchased medications with pseudoephedrine and then goes to purchase the same products at another pharmacy, the second pharmacy would be alerted right away and the sale would be stopped.
The obvious purpose of MethShield is to reduce the level of criminal activity related to meth products and their distribution. One pharmacy at a time, meth labs can be neutralized, along with illegal sales and activities related to pseudoephedrine.
Before the implementation of MethShield, Kansas had tried to stop the illegal production of meth through many other programs. On June 1, 2005, the Sheriff Matt Samuels Chemical Control Act took effect in Kansas. Under this law, cold and allergy medications containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were labeled as Schedule V controlled substances. However, officials are already concluding that MethShield will be more effective in stopping illegal sales and production of these drugs.
"MethShield has a proven track record of success, and that's because it was developed by pharmacists for pharmacies. It's 100 percent safe and secure and will help to reduce the number of meth labs in western Kansas," said Shaun Singleton, president of MethShield and creator of the program.