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Virginians' cold medicine purchases could soon be tracked

Over-the-counter medications like Sudafed, which contains pseudoephedrine or PSE, are restricted to buyers who can identify themselves or sign for the drugs. The Virginia law limits PSE purchases because the nonprescription drugs can be used for manufacturing methamphetamine. Some officials say the drug law is too lax to prevent drug-related offenses.

Police say some have found ways around the state law by using false identification and "smurfing," or making legal PSE purchases in several different stores. The Virginia State Crime Commission and a state assembly on health care want to combat the growing problem of miniature meth labs by considering new ways to monitor people who purchase pseudoephedrine.

State legislation introduced last year failed to change the status of PSE-containing drugs to prescription-only medications. Lawmakers wanted more time to study other options, including a system called NPLEx, or the National Precursor Log Exchange, used in 17 other states.

The computer-tracking device operates in real time to monitor limits and block illegal PSE purchases. The system is funded by the pharmaceutical industry, whose leaders oppose making over-the-counter PSE drugs prescription medicines.

Of the more than 34,000 drug arrests made throughout the state last year, Virginia State Police reported that less than 500 were methamphetamine-related. The problem law enforcement sees is a rise in the number of meth labs.

Since 2005, the lab seizure rate has nearly tripled, most significantly in southwestern parts of Virginia. Authorities say some of the so-called labs are as simple as "shake and bake" plastic bottles used to mix meth-producing chemicals.

The joint commission is considering whether the state law should match a federal law that bans individual PSE purchases of more than 3.6 grams per day and 9 grams per month. Virginia law currently restricts daily PSE buys, but not monthly purchases.

As this information shows, Virginia authorities take the production of methamphetamines very seriously. However, just as not everyone who purchases cold medicine is planning to produce meth, not everyone who is accused of producing meth is guilty. If you have been accused of participating in a meth lab, it is very important to understand your rights and options. Speaking to an experienced Virginia defense attorney can be helpful.

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Va. aims to attack meth problem," Frank Green, Sept. 25, 2011

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Ronald E. Smith, P.C.

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