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.