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Posted by Phoenix Methamphetamine Attorney Nick Alcock:

Arizona law-enforcement officials have long known that small-time manufacturers of methamphetamine can easily get their raw materials in the aisles of a typical pharmacy. As a result, their fight against the drug’s spread has included limiting large or repeated purchases of over-the-counter cold and flu medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, drugs like Sudafed, Zyrtec-D and Claritin-D. Arizona pharmacies have only required that records be maintained on paper logs making the purchase limits difficult for pharmacists to track and easy for meth manufacturers to skirt.

Lawmakers have set out to change this with a recently passed a bill requiring the roughly 1,300 pharmacies in Arizona to use a national database to track such purchases. By January, pharmacists will be able to swipe customers’ IDs and see if they have exceeded limits on purchasing such drugs in Arizona or elsewhere. Pharmacists believe it will be a vast improvement over the current system, which they say was only as effective as the employee’s memory. Law-enforcement officials say the new tracking system will give them one more tool in combating the drug.

Individuals, known as “Smurfs,” travel from store to store buying products that contain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to use in making meth, a drug that causes brain damage, organ failure, stroke, open sores, rotting teeth and mania. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 ordered stores to lock the products behind the counter and placed a limit on the amount a person can purchase: 3.6 grams per day or 9 grams per month. Stores were required to keep paper records of the purchases for at least two years.

When a customer wanted to buy a box of Sudafed, for example, the pharmacist had to record the customer’s name, address and Social Security number in a log. Pharmacists pointed out the many inherent flaws with that system. Without sifting through every name in the log, the pharmacist or staff members had only their memory to help identify a suspicious sale. Even if a pharmacist could remember every customer, the current system makes it impossible to track meth makers who travel from one city to another, let alone from state to state, to buy the drugs.

Any pharmacy that violates this new law could be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by fine only, according to the bill.

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