As production of illegal methamphetamines soared in West Virginia a few years ago, some state officials called for a ban on retail sale of medicine containing pseudoephedrine. Alternatively, prescriptions could be required to buy the drugs, others suggested.
Their reasoning was that many sales of allergy and cold remedies containing the chemical were to methamphetamines producers who extracted the pseudoephedrine as a feedstock for their illegal "labs."
But things have changed somewhat, and not because government banned sale of medicines that provide relief for many Mountain State cold and allergy sufferers.
Some retailers said it was wrong to make law-abiding West Virginians suffer because of a few meth lab operators. Why not allow the industry, working closely with law enforcement, to curb pseudoephedrine sales itself?
NPLEx - the National Precursor Log Exchange - was suggested as a way to do that. The NPLEx system links pharmacies by computer, keeping track of who buys pseudoephedrine drugs and how frequently they do so. When retailers notice someone is buying far more cold and allergy medicine than they possibly could need, they can refuse to make additional sales. And law enforcement agencies can be tipped off.
Data from last year indicates that the NPLEx system has blocked sale of more than 6,150 boxes of cold and allergy medicine - containing more than 16,344 grams of pseudoephedrine, the system's operator has reported. That is a 35 percent reduction in pseudoephedrine sales for the second quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2013.
At the same time, law enforcement agencies are finding fewer meth labs in
West Virginia. There was a 27 percent reduction in meth lab incidents during the first five months of this year, compared to 2013.
Clearly, the NPLEx system has taken a bite out of methamphetamines production in West Virginia - again, without making it more expensive and/or less convenient for cold and allergy sufferers to get effective medicine.
The battle against methamphetamines and other illegal drugs is far from over. But the initiative suggested by the pharmacy industry has helped. Legislators considering new anti-drug initiatives would do well to listen to the industry's suggestions, such as one that a registry of methamphetamines offenders be created to provide yet another safeguard.