- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2007


Detective Brian Lewis returns to his desk after lunch, scanning e-mails he missed. One catches his eye: It says a suspected member of a meth ring bought a box of Sudafed at 1:34 p.m. at a CVS pharmacy.

Minutes later, Detective Lewis is in his truck, circling the parking lot, searching for the woman.

Detective Lewis didn’t find her that day, but the scenario illustrates the way law enforcement is increasingly relying on computerized tracking systems in their fight against meth, an illegal drug that is often brewed in makeshift labs and has become a particular scourge in Appalachia and the Midwest.

Tracking systems are gradually being installed in pharmacies nationwide in response to a federal law that, since March 2006, regulates purchases of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth. Pseudoephedrine is found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines.

Under federal law, customers must show photo ID to buy pseudoephedrine, and the legal limit for purchase is 9 grams per month — roughly the equivalent of two 15-dose boxes of 24-hour Claritin D, or three 10-dose boxes of Aleve Cold & Sinus, or six 24-dose boxes of Sudafed.

Tracking systems like MethCheck automatically collect the buyer’s name, address and age with a swipe of a driver’s license or state-issued ID card. Then the system notifies detectives via e-mail when a customer exceeds the purchase limit.

Kentucky is the first state to use MethCheck; it has been testing it in Laurel County since mid-2005. MethCheck will be used at some 7,000 pharmacies in 43 states by next year, said Rick Jones, spokesman for Louisville-based Appriss Inc., which developed MethCheck.

Detective Lewis, who heads the MethCheck initiative at Operation UNITE, a federally funded drug task force in Kentucky, said he used the system to build cases against dozens of people.

Authorities said evidence from MethCheck only leads to preliminary interviews with police and is not enough to warrant an arrest.

“It’s just an investigative tool,” said Van Ingram of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “During the course of any investigation, you’re sometimes going to interview people who aren’t guilty of wrongdoing but who are part of the investigative process.”

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