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Stores warned about drug sale law

By Stephanie Taylor, Staff Writer

June 24, 2010

TUSCALOOSA – Some small pharmacies and convenience stores are violating a law that regulates the sale of medication that can be used to make methamphetamine.

The head of Tuscaloosa's narcotics enforcement division said that some of the businesses are selling too much of the regulated medication and not keeping track of whom they sell it to.

"They're letting people buy all they want as often as they want," said Capt. Jeff Snyder, commander of the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force.

A state law that went into effect in November requires pharmacists and employees of stores that sell the medications to keep a log, either on paper or electronically, with information about who bought the medicine and the quantity purchased, Snyder said.

The stores are only allowed to sell two packages of the medication, or no more than 6 grams. Failure to comply is a felony.

Investigators have been visiting the businesses to make sure they know the law.

"We're going to crack down on these businesses that don't comply. We'll start sending undercovers in to buy this stuff if we have to," Snyder said.

Not all of the stores in violation are unaware of the law, Snyder said. Some store owners will order the medicine by the case and sell it for a sizable profit, he said.

The medication used contains ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as an active ingredient. It is found in cold medications, such as Sudafed. Stores must keep the medication behind the counter or in a locked display case in the store.

The narcotics task force pays for a service called LeadsOnline.

The service allows pharmacies to scan the identification of people who buy restricted medications.

The information goes to the LeadsOnline database, which investigators can monitor for people purchasing unusual amounts.

Snyder demonstrated the program Tuesday, showing an incident in which a man from Fayette purchased medication at a grocery store in Tuscaloosa and was denied the same purchase at a nearby drugstore later that day.

Using the software is a way that the pharmacies can comply with the record-keeping required by the law, Snyder said, but two large drugstore chains have so far refused to use it. The stores do keep records on purchases of medication and are complying with the law.

"Right now, meth is a tremendous problem. We've got two issues: one is the small stores that are selling these precursor chemicals and the second is that some of the stores won't get involved (with the LeadsOnline) program," Snyder said.

Snyder said he understands that some people have a concern about privacy, but the state law already requires stores to keep a record of buyers that officers can inspect. The computer program just makes it easier for investigators to access the information, he said.

"This is not 'Big Brother.' I know people are out there buying this for the right reasons. We're not going to come to someone's door for buying a box of cold medicine, but we need this to monitor who is buying it over and over," he said. "I know that the good people who are following the law are inconvenienced, but I think that the good people want this stopped."

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