Law enforcement officials in Tennessee say that a recent law aimed at shutting down methamphetamine labs isn’t strict enough because it doesn’t make meth’s key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, available only through a doctor’s prescription. Pseudoephedrine is found in many cold and cough medicines.
The new law lowers the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can buy over-the-counter in one day. Critics of the new law say it does little to reduce the meth-making practice called ‘smurfing’—getting people to buy small amounts of pseudoephedrine, which is then combined with others to make a batch of meth.
“We basically have a whole cottage industry out of here, of people who do nothing but go around and buy ephedrine and pseudoephedrine,” Tommy Farmer, Director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force, told The Tennessean. “They run under the radar by not exceeding those legal limits, those thresholds.”
The new law will require pharmacies to use a software-based regional tracking system called NPLEx by January 1. The system is designed to stop excessive sales by logging pseudoephedrine sales in real time, and checking them against several nearby states to see how much the person has bought.
Starting in July, a person will not be able to buy more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine a day, or 9 grams a month. Since most decongestant pills contain between 30 mg to 120 mg, a person could buy around 30 to 120 doses a day, the article notes. When a person reaches the limit, the computer system blocks the sale.
The law includes fines for people caught smurfing—they will pay $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for a second. The proceeds will go to fund meth cleanup efforts. According to the newspaper, federal funding for meth lab cleanups was cut by more than $4 million earlier this year.