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Tracking system targets meth ‘smurfers’

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Feb. 28, 2010 at 7:40 pm with No Comments »
February 26, 2010 5:48 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Smurfing.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Something you might do on vacation with the kids at a theme park.

But in drug enforcement circles, it’s bad news. Smurfing is what meth cooks do get the ingredients they need for their product. They go from store to store, buying as many boxes as they can of cold medication that contains ephedrine and other meth precursors.

Earlier legislation sponsored by state Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, was instrumental in drastically reducing the number of meth labs in Washington because it put over-the-counter drugs used by cookers behind the counter and limited the amount of these drugs that could be purchased. Still, cookers can get what they need by smurfing because the law only requires that sellers keep a written log.

But more is needed; the paper log is cumbersome for retailers and pharmacists, and it doesn’t provide “real-time” alerts that someone is going around trying to buy excessive amounts of precursors.

Campbell’s House Bill 2961, which has cleared the House and awaits action in the Senate, addresses those problems. It would establish a statewide electronic tracking system that would monitor the sale of nonprescription products containing meth precursors.

For instance, if a person buys the allowed monthly limit (two packages of no more than 3 grams per package) at a Walgreen’s in Tacoma and a few hours later tries to buy more at a Rite-Aid in Olympia, the tracking system will alert the seller and stop the sale.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that it’s an invasion of privacy for a person to have to show photo ID and have a medication purchase logged. Law-abiding people who know that this action can take a bite out of a serious drug crime likely won’t mind much.

The ACLU also argues that existing laws have already worked so well that the electronic tracking system isn’t needed. Yes, meth busts are down in Pierce County – from 349 in 2005 to 56 in 2009 – but that’s not an insignificant number.

Campbell’s legislation is supported by state Attorney General Rob McKenna, Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. Even retailers – who have fought this in the past – are on board.

The state’s cost to establish the system – $23,000 in this biennium and $57,000 in the next – is negligible. The drug companies that manufacture the products will pay the bulk of the cost. They prefer this to the alternative route Oregon has taken – requiring prescriptions for medicine containing meth precursors.

Meth takes a devastating toll on communities, creating costs for law enforcement, the judicial system and family services. The toxic waste left behind by meth labs hurt property values and the environment. Anything that can help put the remaining labs out of commission is welcome.

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