Gary Popp and Matt Koesters CNHI News Service
The Batesville Herald-Tribune
---- — JEFFERSONVILLE — The state’s top lawyer has a message for pharmacy shoppers: Don’t indulge in “smurfing.”
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore and representatives from the Indiana Retail Council at CVS along Spring Street in Jeffersonville to unveil a new statewide public-awareness campaign warning against purchasing certain medicines for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine.
The voluntary educational campaign aims to increase public awareness of the criminal enterprise known as “smurfing,” which is the practice of purchasing cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine to sell to methamphetamine cooks.
The initiative comes as Indiana State Police continues to have a record number of meth lab busts.
Key to the new campaign is signage displayed at the point of sale informing consumers that smurfing is a criminal offense and an integral part of the meth production process. As a result, the simple act of buying certain cold and allergy products for a stranger can fuel Indiana’s meth problem.
“Law enforcement, prosecutors and our legislature have all worked hard to crackdown on the use and manufacturing of methamphetamine, and the fact is, more must be done,” Zoeller said. “This public awareness campaign warns Hoosiers about that purchasing pseudoephedrine for the purposes of either making meth or selling it to a meth cook is a crime. This joint initiative shows that state leaders are willing to join forces with the manufacturers of over-the-counter cold an allergy medicines to remind all Hoosiers: if you’re purchasing these items for a meth cook, you are breaking the law and you will be arrested.”
And the penalty has gotten more severe: In July, “smurfing” behavior was changed from a misdemeanor charge to a class D felony offense.
Unlike other hard drugs, methamphetamine can be easily produced with materials readily available to the public.
“Not only is [methamphetamine] something people can learn to manufacture themselves, but I think meth, when they talk about it being a scourge, the number of children that are brought in by Child Protective Services, I think a lot of that is related to meth addicts,” Zoeller said.
But new products, such as Nexafed, which is formulated in a fashion the drug cannot easily be used in methamphetamine production, could result in the eradication of methamphetamine production. The drug “disrupts the extraction and conversion of pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine,” according to its website.
Nexafed is currently available at area pharmacies, though it’s costlier than typical cold and allergy medicines. Zoeller took a long-term approach in addressing that issue.
“Those are some things we would really like to see move online,” he said. “The problem is when you eliminate the local manufacture, you will have it quickly replaced by the drug trade coming up from Mexico.”
Mull said it is helpful to law enforcement officials to have leaders tightening laws, reinforcing penalties, and raising public awareness.
During a recent media event held near a pharmacy counter, Mull gave insight into how methamphetamine use affects the residents of Clark County.
“Here, in Clark County, we have seen over the last two years a large increase in this activity, and these laws are much needed.” Mull said. “We have individuals who go from pharmacy to pharmacy and obtain these materials and then create these drugs. It is a big drain on the community.”
Moore said methamphetamine use is something that has touched nearly all families living in Jeffersonville, but that he is encouraged by the state’s action to combat production of the drug.
“Meth is truly a horrible drug that effects all parts of our community,” Moore said. “Public education campaigns like this are so important so that members of our community can help in the fight against this tragic occurrence.”
Some on the frontlines have seen a dent in the meth problem.
Chad Burks, a pharmacist at Westmoreland Pharmacy, said he has seen improvements in the availability of pseudoephedrine while working at the Jeffersonville pharmacy.
“I think it is good. I’ve seen a significant reduction of druggies walking into the door,” Burks said of state and federal efforts to curtail illegal usage of pseudoephedrine. “They have pretty much locked down the channels.”
Burks said when customers come into the pharmacy and attempt to purchase pseudoephedrine, that person’s information is taken from a driver’s license and entered into a database, Meth Check, which tracks pseudoephedrine purchase history. If the database shows that person has reached the legal purchase limit, he or she will be turned away.
Burks said the Jeffersonville Westmoreland Pharmacy does not have to often decline the sale of pseudoephedrine. He said people are not permitted to purchase more than 7.2 grams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period or 3.6 grams in a single day.
One of the largest deterrents to illegal use of pseudoephedrine, according to Burks, is to keep the drug behind the pharmacy counter and out of reach of customers.
Burks has witnessed first hand the results of Zoeller’s and other officials’ efforts.