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Computer tracking system now part of law regulating ephedrine purchases

Published 4:49pm Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Law enforcement agencies in Chilton and all other Alabama counties are adjusting to a state law placing tighter restrictions on the over-the-counter sales of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, two medicines used in producing the illegal drug methamphetamine.

Passed in the 2012 Alabama legislative session and effective Jan. 1, Act 2012-237 under House Bill 363 established “a Drug Offender Tracking System to catalogue all criminal convictions in this state of persons convicted of felonies or misdemeanors involving the possession, distribution, manufacture or trafficking of controlled substances,” according to the Sine Die Report of the Alabama District Attorneys Association (ADAA) and the Office of Prosecution Services (OPS).

Law enforcement can now keep active watches on drug offenders via NPLEX, the National Precursor Log Exchange, which is a real-time electronic logging system used to track sales of medications like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

“The people that we wind up catching through the system are people that are already on our watch list,” Capt. Neil Fetner of the Clanton Police Department said. “When their name goes into NPLEX, that’s when we start getting information on them.”

People with a drug paraphernalia or possession conviction will be prohibited from purchasing ephedrine for seven years, and those with a distribution, manufacturing or trafficking conviction will be banned from purchasing ephedrine for 10 years.

The law also states that ephedrine can be sold only from pharmacies and only from a licensed pharmacist, a licensed pharmacy technician or a person under the direct supervision of a pharmacist.

Ephedrine products are required to be stored only behind the counter in the pharmacy area. Those purchasing these products must present photo identification that is both valid and current.

The law states that a person who sells ephedrine and fails to collect the proper information or fails to obtain proper identification from the buyer will be guilty of a class A misdemeanor upon the first offense and a class C felony on the second and subsequent offenses.

Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell said although he understands the intend of the new law, it has brought his department a massive workload increase related to the number of warrants they have issued since Jan. 1 and the amount of time his narcotics officers must spend behind a desk instead of fighting street-level drug activity.

“We signed 120 warrants just for that (law) in January, and that has put a new huge workload on the two narcotics guys that we have,” Stilwell said. “They’re now spending a lot more time in the office.”

Clanton police handle nearly all cases at six of the county’s nine pharmacies that are within the city limits.

Sheriff Kevin Davis of the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department said his officers work with Clanton, Jemison and Maplesville police departments to ensure all pharmacies are covered and offenders are charged only by one agency.

“I think it’s a very good law,” Davis said. “Used to, we’d have to travel around from store to store that sold (ephedrine products) and manually go through those logs and see who was purchasing those items more so than the law would allow. Now we can do all that by computer.”

Another significant facet of the new law is that the selling of ephedrine in Alabama does not require a prescription unless the person seeking to buy the ephedrine resides in a different state—currently Mississippi and Oregon—whose law requires a valid prescription to buy the ephedrine there.

For example, a Mississippi resident must have a prescription for ephedrine to purchase it in Mississippi and Alabama.

An Alabama resident currently does not have to have a prescription for ephedrine to purchase it in Alabama.

Stilwell, Fetner and Davis said they hope the law will eventually decrease the large number of meth labs and meth-related cases in Chilton County that are part of a greater epidemic in the United States.

“We hope the enforcement of this law will deter the making of meth, which in doing that, the work on meth cases (and) cleaning up labs will decrease,” Davis said. “Our hope is that it all balances out at the end of the day. It’s just one more way of us having enforcement powers to try to limit the amount of meth that’s being made.”

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