Police officers from across southern West Virginia were in a classroom setting Tuesday learning more about how to battle meth labs.
Courtesy photo
Police officers from across southern West Virginia were in a classroom setting Tuesday learning more about how to battle meth labs.

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. – Law enforcement from across the southern part got a unique perspective on the NPLEx system from a cop from Louisiana Tuesday.

Detective Chris Comeaux with the St. Tammany Parish Police Department called NPLEx or National Precursor Log Exchange, a must when it comes to tracking down meth labs.

Comeaux was in Bluefield for a conference aimed at helping West Virginia law enforcement become more comfortable with NPLEx which came on line across the state in Jan. 2013.

“My own personal opinion is that NPLEx tracking is the best way for law enforcement to minimize their meth problem because it allows the officers to proactively investigate the meth labs,” said Comeaux.

He got his start with NPLEx when Louisiana brought the system on line in July 2010. He said NPLEx almost immediately had an impact on the meth problem in his state.

“It’s definitely helped. It’s definitely taken care of the problem. We’re seeing a decrease in meth labs as well as individuals who are out there, we call them smurfers, purchasing the product to manufacture meth,” according to Comeaux.

How big a help was NPLEx? Comeaux said you just have to look at the numbers to see the impact.

“At the time we implemented NPLEx, our meth labs were on the rise. We were starting to do about 5 or 6 a week, averaging anywhere from 20 to 50 labs a year. It has since declined. We’re actually now, in 2014, we’ve done about 5 labs,” explained Comeaux.

The old way of tracking meth purchases involved a lot of footwork for officers.

“Prior to NPLEx what law enforcement had to do was go pharmacy to pharmacy to gather the research and then go through paper logs which seems to be endless,” said the detective.

With NPLEx, the computerized system connects pharmacy with pharmacy to prevent smurfers from going around town buying up pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in meth. Law enforcement can use the system right at their desks to find out who’s purchasing the drug and which pharmacies are selling the most product. He said each officer can customize searches to assist in their investigation.

“I use the program in many ways to research an individual that we might have information on. I also proactively use the program to look at who’s out there, who’s getting blocked, who’s over their limit,” said Comeaux. “I try to go interview or do some surveillance on their residence.”

He said it works and it can work even better for West Virginia law enforcement if they commit themselves to getting to know the system inside and out and finding their own research methods.

The West Virginia Retailers Association, the National Association of Drug Investigators, the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association and the West Virginia Municipal League sponsored Tuesday’s seminar. There have already been similar workshops in Beckley, Bridgeport, Charleston and Vienna. Four more are planned for later this year.

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Comments

  • Momma Karstens

    Meth scmeth. Just one big over reaction. I been cooking and smoking it since bout the time I became with child with my Gary. He's fine!! It helped make him an active kid. Without it he was a sloth. With it a superstar. It helped him come in in first place in the annual Turdville breath holding contest. Seventeen minutes with no oxygen. By far a contest record. Once again-he's fine! It protected him from harm actually. Dropped him from a fourth floor window once. Landed on his head. Stood up and yeeshed it off like it never happened. Hell, even that forced lobotomy by the state didn't change him none. Yeesh almighty folks. Take a chill pill and quit worrying. My Gary is living proof.

    • Momma Karstens

      And to all you doubters about the prenatal benefits of meth, for two days my OB-GYN thought Gary was a breech birth with the umbilical cord wrapped around his waist and kept trying to shove him back in. Turns out it was actually his head and he was just precircumcised. What looked liked the umbilical cord was actually the protective ring around the base of his head. And yesSH! He turned out fine! So, that birthmark is really a Delcon Shield (over two decades old. You'll have to look it up.) Yeesh! He does make a momma proud.

      • Momma Karstens

        Sorry Gare Bear. Dalkon Shield. But u know what protrudes from your forehead.

  • Jason412

    "Law enforcement hiring freezes and a lack of funding for attacking the state’s meth lab problem may account, in part, for the waning use of NPLEx, said Lt. Chad Napier, a Charleston police detective and administrator with the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team.

    “There’s manpower issues. You just don’t have the manpower to use it,” Napier said. “We don’t actively look for meth labs. We deal with meth labs when we find them.”

    So we could listen to an officer from Louisiana, who obviously was sent to WV to promote NPLEX, or we could listen to the administrator of the Metro Drug Enforcement Team, who says they don't have the manpower. I wonder which officer knows more about drug investigations in West Virginia and the Charleston area? My guess would be the one who lives in the state and is actively involved with the WV NPLEX.

    If it's working so well, why have NPLEX searches in WV dropped 60% since this same time last year? Last year being the same year NPLEX began being used, as well as the same year WV had over 500 labs, a record number. This year there have already been over 200, and I'm not sure if that counts the guy in Weston recently. If not that puts it at almost 300 in mid July.


    The guy in Weston recently had over 80 meth labs, and the guy in Morgantown a month or two back had over 60. NPLEX was credited in neither of those arrests, and in my mind, allowing 2 people to cook 140 batches of meth in 140 separate "labs" is hardly a positive sign that it's working, or slowing down meth production.

    Hopefully more pharmacies will step up and only offer the tamper-resistant. When the batches are half the size at best when cooked by an actual drug company chemist, and it becomes more expensive to make than to buy, then maybe we will stop seeing labs in the hundreds and citizens can still have their pseudo without going to the doctor.

    • The bookman

      There you go again. The small batch labs in question that you mention would not have been hindered by tamper resistant Nexafed. Prescription only PSE could still be acquired through illegal means. Drug abusers will always find a way, so why punish the law abiding citizen?

    • Aaron

      I'm not trying to get in any big debate here but how much manpower does it take to monitor a website.

      • Jason412

        Bookman,

        Did you miss this part of my post?
        "When the batches are half the size at best when cooked by an actual drug company chemist, and it becomes more expensive to make than to buy, then maybe we will stop seeing labs in the hundreds "

        Both the guy from Morgantown and Weston would have produced half as much meth. And like I said, that's half as much meth at absolute best. An actual chemist turned Nexafed into half as much meth as Sudafed, not some backwoods high school drop out. Most of the meth busts I've been seeing come complete with written instructions, these aren't the brightest among us. Half as much meth if cooked 100% right, leads to a maximum of half as much profit or drugs to use, thus making it more expensive to cook than to buy.

        I don't see being able to buy the tamper-resistant as "punishment", so no sense in discussing that any further.


        Prescription PSE could still be acquired illegally, hence why I didn't say labs would be eliminated. The fact is in the states, and counties, where PSE could only be obtained illegally, or through a doctor, meth labs continue to hit record low numbers.


        It's also worth mentioning Mississippi is now not only reporting huge drops in meth labs since 2010, but drops in meth usage as well.



        Aaron,

        " I also proactively use the program to look at who’s out there, who’s getting blocked, who’s over their limit,” said Comeaux. “I try to go interview or do some surveillance on their residence.”

        It's far more than monitoring a website. It only works if used as described by the Louisiana officer in what I quoted above, and if used like that it opens up law abiding citizens to have their houses, or entire lives,put under surveillance. Talk about infringement of rights. Being put under surveillance is one hell of an infringement.

        That method requires more manpower than any city or town in WV has, as well as the concerns of unjust surveillance I raised above.


        Tennessee had 1600 labs in 2013, but the counties where prescription-only was passed saw a 40-70% decrease from the year before. When a prescription-only county has a 70% decrease in one year, while the county beside it has only NPLEX and saw no decrease, well that speaks for it's self.


        However, I will say I am pretty much done pushing for the legislation. The new hope is that more pharmacies will hold themselves accountable, and handle it themselves, but I'm sure drug companies will fight that tooth and nail.

        • Aaron

          Your quote answered my question. The gentleman said he's targeting those over the limit. Legal purchases are not targeted as it should be.

        • Jason412

          Aaron,

          Here is the article I pulled that quote from the Charleston detective from.

          http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140716/GZ01/140719424/1419

          3,266 NPLEX searches in May 2013, 1,328 in June of this year. Pretty big drop for something that's supposed to be working.

          Here's another great quote

          "Drug industry lobbyists initially said NPLEx would help reduce the number of meth labs in West Virginia. But after lab numbers increased significantly during the first six months of last year, the lobbyists said NPLEx was helping police find meth labs.

          Law enforcement authorities disputed those claims, but they acknowledged that officers were using NPLEx to shore up criminal complaints by proving meth lab operators had purchased pseudoephedrine pills."

          That's what NPLEX is good for. Securing prosecution after the police have stumbled on the meth lab. That is the only way I have ever seen it credited in a criminal investigation from reading thousands of news articles.

          Seems like the only people I see saying NPLEX works are people from Retailer's Associations, or people sent by Retailer's Assocations.

          • The bookman

            According to the Indiana State Police, who led the nation last year in meth lab seizures, the number of seizures is not indicative of an improving or declining meth problem. He cited Oregon, who has a massive meth problem, but only a few lab seizures. They say if you eliminate PSE, you end up with importation of meth, instead of manufacture of meth. So instead of fires and contaminated property you have turf wars and dealers from Mexico. The solution is the user ending the abuse. The rest is just smoke and mirrors. We have a drug abuse problem in general here in this country. Banning PSE, or restricting its purchase through prescription is a waste of time.

          • Jason412

            Bookman,

            Like I said, Nexafed converting to half as much as Sudafed was done by a chemist, as in someone who actually understands what he's doing. Not someone who more than likely had to read step by step directions he pulled off the internet to use Sudafed. I'm not completely buying that your average meth head will be able to convert it to half. Even the Nexafed site says "about half"

            Anyways, even if he could convert it to exactly half. That's half as much meth on the streets. That's half the people that will be able to be supplied by one guy. That's half the money this guy will have to reinvest in his meth business. And citizens still have pseudo that works, as it meets FDA bioequivalence standards, through the same pharmacies they currently use. I don't see how that can be portrayed as anything but a win win.

          • The bookman

            So assume he had 80 labs, coke bottles, using Nexafed as the agent. The yield would have been the same as 40 labs using Sudafed. Same amount of drug, but perception is double the problem. So the explosion of meth lab seizures over time are not necessarily indicative of a growing problem, nor is the shrinking number of lab seizures indicative of effective solutions. I have never believed tracking lab seizures was a reliable, consistent method for evaluating the problem. And these recent busts where two individuals were responsible for "120" labs only illustrates the point.

          • Jason412

            Bookman,

            Can you please provide me a link that shows a meth lab busted in WV in the last 5 years that was not a shake and bake lab? If you can find several, or even one, I will concede the current way of tracking lab numbers is flawed. However, since there were over 500 labs in the state last year, and every one was a shake and bake lab, I can't think of any better way lab numbers could be tracked. After all, it's labs busted, not people with meth labs busted.

            The fact the guy in Weston was able to have 80 labs shows how easy pseudo is to get in massive quantities, that NPLEX does nothing from stopping people from obtaining said massive quantities, and that NPLEX did not lead to this mans apprehension.


            One man with 80 labs far better illustrates how easy the current system is to circumvent than 80 people with 80 labs.

            Aaron,

            Since you can only buy 2 boxes a month, and those boxes provide 10 days or less worth of pills, it's not that uncommon for someone who is using it legitimately to be blocked or over the limit.

            As soon as that happens even one time, you open yourself up to being put under surveillance. Getting blocked doesn't mean I've committed a crime or have any intention to manufacture drugs, yet the police could watch my house due to it? Like I said, one hell of an infringement.

            I would also add, the Louisiana officer doesn't say he only looks at people blocked or over the limit he also says he uses it to "see who's out there". Also, that quote is just how one officer uses it. Every box that every person buys (even 2 a year as you mentioned below) is logged into the system. Your name, address, date of purchase, and purchase location are all easily view-able. There is certainly nothing that states a person has to exceed the limit to be investigated further or put under surveillance.

          • The bookman

            So just so I'm straight. The police report a meth lab, in the classical large sense, as one meth lab. But when they bust a guy in Weston with 80 coke bottles strewn around his house, they report that as 80 meth labs. And the data is reliable in your mind to establish trends of efficacy in the type of policy used to curb meth abuse. Do you see the problem here, at all?

    • Jason412

      Oh, I missed the end of the article where it says the Louisiana officer was in fact sent by the retailers association. A paid spokesman says the product he's paid to promote works? How shocking.

  • Shadow

    Knowing that someone is looking over your shoulder on everything that you do make a profound effect on behavior. Well known in religious circles for a long time. I hope the system includes an address requirement so that a search can be done on that item.

  • Aaron

    Officials nationwide have known that this program works. It is responsible for reduction in meth lab in numerous states including Oregon, which implemented a prescription requirement after this system was working. I agree with bookman below in that this is acceptable means to combat meth lab problems.

  • Citizen

    My only huge concern is that
    law enforcement will begin to profile legitimate users and patients. You will be guilty before innocent. You know it will happen.

    • Aaron

      Is it the program designed to only show those with multiple purchases at multiple stores who exceed the allowable limit? I purchased a box or 2 a year. According to the pharmacist those purchases do not flag law-enforcement. Is she lying?

    • Jason412

      Citizen,

      I've been saying that all along. Nothing in the computers makes me or you any different than a smurfer. Either it doesn't work at all, because they can't tell the difference between smurfers and law abiding citizens, or it leads to investigations of law abiding citizens.

  • The bookman

    An acceptable infringement of the law abiding citizen's access to pseudo ephedrine. No need for a prescription only cost to be shouldered by citizens for an over the counter, safe medicine.