Tracking cold medicine sales not helping in meth arrests

MARSHALL CO. — A regulation intended to help law enforcement catch methamphetamine cooks is actually making arrests more difficult, according to Indiana State Police First Sergeant Niki Crawford.
Since the first of this year, retailers selling pseudoephedrine — the decongestant used in over-the-counter medicine like Sudafed — have “tracked” purchases of the drug through a computer system. This was mandated by Indiana state government along with limiting purchasers to 3.6 grams of the drug per day.
Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in homemade meth.
“(The tracking system) has made it more difficult to pursue charges,” said Crawford, who works in the ISP meth suppression unit. “Before, when people were allowed to go over the limit we had a criminal charge to pursue people with. What we want to do is reduce the amount of (meth) labs we have, and tracking has not done that. Labs are up 22 and a half percent since last year.”
In Marshall County, the Sheriff’s Department reports that there have been 97 meth-related arrests this year. In 2011, there were 130 meth-related arrests. Kellie Kanarr, with Marshall County jail records, said that over the past three years these numbers have remained consistent.
Crawford said that another problem with tracking pseudoephedrine purchases is that meth cooks typically have others buy the drug for them.
“A meth cook cannot buy enough pseudoephedrine to even satisfy their own meth addiction,” said Crawford. “They will have between six and 100 people buying for them, depending on how sophisticated their operation is.”
Crawford believes the only way to cut down on the misuse of pseudoephedrine is to have it available only with a prescription.
“I don’t see this problem going away,” said Crawford. “Not until we do something to control (the sale of) pseudoephedrine. We can’t keep track of who is buying for who.”
She noted that Oregon and Mississippi have moved to prescription only pseudoephedrine sales, and that’s decreased their numbers of meth labs significantly. Since putting the drug behind the counter in 2010, meth labs in Mississippi have gone down by 70 percent.
The cost to the Indiana State Police to process meth-related crimes is steep — in a March 2012 report, the ISP noted that about $2,000 is spent to clean up one meth lab. More than $17 million has been spent on the task since 1995.
For those who just want less sniffles, Crawford said the easiest way to avoid the hassles of buying cold medicine is to ask a doctor for a prescription.
“That’s the most convenient thing to do — it doesn’t change the price (of the medicine),” said Crawford.