of methamphetamine labs from 2008 through 2010to methamphetamine producers’ ability to workaround pharmacy precursor sales limitation policies,especially for the nasal decongestantpseudoephedrine. To exceed individualpseudoephedrine purchase limitations,methamphetamine producers pay others –commonly referred to as “smurfs” – to purchasepseudoephedrine.
To address the problem of “smurfing,” some states, including Tennessee,implemented electronic tracking systems to better track purchases and to enforce the precursor limitations.
Impact of Electronic Tracking ofPharmacy Precursor Sales
Methamphetamine lab incident trends in thefour states operating statewide electronictracking for pharmacy precursors for multipleyears – Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, andTennessee – do not differ from other highmethamphetamine production states.
Inaddition, a small percentage of over-the-limit saleswere blocked in the four states that used NPLEx in2010 (Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, and Iowa);methamphetamine lab incidents in 2010 did notdecrease in those states. Possible reasons for theincrease in the number of methamphetamine labs instates with electronic tracking systems include:
Electronic tracking can limit the amount of precursors individuals can purchase, butmay be ineffective if offenders use falseidentification and/or recruit larger groups of individuals to purchase smaller amounts of the precursors.
Tracking systems may be more effective atassisting law enforcement in the discoveryof methamphetamine labs, thus increasingthe number of labs discovered, than atpreventing methamphetamine labs.
The increase in the number of methamphetamine lab incidents may berelated to a shift to low-yield productionmethods, often referred to as the “one-pot”or “shake-and-bake” method. Using thissimplified method, methamphetamineproducers can quickly produce smallbatches of methamphetamine morefrequently and in multiple locations. Thismethod requires a smaller amount of thepharmacy precursors, thus increasing thenumber of potential producers. This changein production method may affect thecomparability of methamphetamine labincidents statistics over time. A preliminary assessment by OREA of NPLEx in itsfirst six to eight months of statewide, mandatoryoperation in Tennessee during 2012 found:
Methamphetamine lab incidents since theimplementation of NPLEx in January 2012have not decreased substantially andremain at high levels.
About three percent of pharmacy precursor sales were blocked by NPLEx as over-the-limit from January through October 2012.
Same store precursor sales declined anestimated two percent in the first sixmonths of 2012 compared to the sameperiod in 2011. The decline is approximatelyequivalent to the sales reported blocked byNPLEx.
The Tennessee MethamphetamineIntelligence System (TMIS) has flagged as“suspicious” about 33 percent of totalgrams of pharmacy precursors purchasedand 12 percent of driver licenses used for purchases from January through September 2012. This is a decrease from 47 percent of grams purchased and 18 percent of driver licenses used in that period in 2011.Tennessee’s monthly pharmacy precursor iiE