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New pseudoephedrine law to cut supply, officials hope

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | APRIL 10, 2009 7:30 AM

Officials said they hope a new law — which would track pseudoephedrine sales electronically — will curb a rising number of arrests for purchasing the drug illegally, but they’re unsure when the new system can be implemented.

The system is an extension of a 2005 state law placing medications containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter and limiting the quantity a person can purchase in a single month.

Pseudoephedrine is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of methanphetamine. Until now, pharmacies could only keep track of sales in paper logs, an inefficient system leading to the rise of “smurfing” — the illegal practice of circumventing the law by buying pseudoephedrine from numerous pharmacies.

Meth-related arrests dropped sharply after the 2005 law was passed, according to a report from the Iowa Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said he saw the same trend on the county level. But beginning in the last half of 2008, he began noticing an increase in meth offenses, which has continued. He attributed the rise to those who manufacture meth getting smarter and an increase in smurfing.

Pulkrabek said he supports the new tracking system, though he doesn’t yet have much specific information.

“What I hope it will do is help bring smurfing under control,” he said. “With [pharmacies] being linked electronically, it can be tracked.”

Even with only the paper tracking system, Pulkrabek said, it appeared arrests of illegal purchases of pseudoephedrine have recently increased, though he had no specific numbers.

The owner of Medical Plaza Pharmacy in Iowa City, Mike Deninger, noted a potential concern in how much burden the law will place on pharmacies. But he also said he has received little specific information about the system that will be used.

That’s because there is little definite information to disseminate, said Dale Woolery, the associate director of the governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. Though Iowa Gov. Chet Culver signed the bill March 25, Woolery said, the state must still form an advisory committee consisting of lawmakers and pharmacists. Those people have not yet been appointed.

Though the $750,000 grant for this project was approved when President Obama signed the budget bill for 2009, the Iowa office still has not been notified about receiving the money.

Woolery said his office supported a stop-sale system, in which a pharmacist would be immediately notified if people attempt to purchase pseudoephedrine illegally. The pharmacist can refuse to sell to them. Instead, the Legislature passed a bill to track sales and notify law enforcement when an illegal purchase is made.

“It’s an after-the-fact investigatory tool,” Woolery said. But he said he’s hopeful the bill will once again curb illegal pseudoephedrine sales and meth production.

Five other states have similar systems, and others are considering them. Though Iowa has agreed to install the system, no specific date for beginning to track sales electronically has been set.

“It’s good news, it’s a really good tool,” Woolery said. “There are several steps in the process, and we have taken the first one.”


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