Lebanon police officials continues to battle meth users, manufacturers and smurfers, but are burdened by many factors affecting Lebanon.
The National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) system, fully adopted by the state in Jan. 2012, is a major step in slowing down the manufacture of methamphetamine, but the system is not perfect.
The system uses real-time, stop-sale technology to block excessive pseudoephedrine sales at sales counters and provides law enforcement agencies with data that could be used to apprehend people involved in meth activities.
Pseudoephedrine is one of the main ingredients needed to produce meth and is the active ingredient in many cold and allergy medicines.
The system checks the personal information given to clerks against nearby states to monitor how much the person has bought.
The system incorporates the Tennessee Drug Offender Registry, and people with previous meth-related offenses are not allowed to buy medication that contains pseudoephedrine. At least that would be the case if the system worked perfectly.
Lebanon Police Department said it has discovered several instances when individuals who should have been unable to buy pseudoephedrine have made purchases and sometimes frequently.
TBI Public Information Officer Josh DeVine said the flaws are more than likely due to the NPLEx system and not the negligence of law officials. He said the TBI is not responsible for what occurs at the point of purchase.
The stop-sale system has performed well in Tennessee since its implementation, despite the misses in Wilson County.
The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators released its results on the performance of the system in Tennessee last week.
It showed that NPLEx data revealed more than 17,163 boxes of medicine containing pseudoephedrine were blocked during the first seven months of 2014, which prevented more than 47,651 grams from potentially being used for meth manufacture.
Tennessee sold 18 percent fewer boxes of pseudoephedrine and reduced the number of individual purchasers by 13 percent compared to the same point last year, according to the Drug Diversion Investigators report.
Wilson County had the fourth-highest rate of methamphetamine seizures through May, according to a report from the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force released earlier this year, and Lebanon’s structure is one factor for that.
Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen said Lebanon’s interstate system and hotel numbers make tracking and stopping pseudoephedrine sales difficult for police, who have discovered 16 labs this year.
“The interstate brings its fair share of commerce and trade, but it also brings its share of problems,” Bowen said. “Plus there’s a number of hotels along the interstate and some have hourly or nightly rates and for pretty cheap.”
Bowen said a majority of the meth-related incidents that happen in Lebanon are the result of outside individuals, particularly from counties to the east of Wilson, due to the elimination of pseudoephedrine products in many of their locations. He said the absence of a 24-hour Walgreens pharmacy also contributes to the movement to Lebanon.
Bowen said people are able to bring four or five people with them on their commutes to Lebanon at low costs, which raises the number of smurfing incidents. Smurfing involves purchasing pseudoephedrine products for other individuals’ use and is illegal.
The hotel locations and rates also make manufacturing of meth at the locations convenient for the individuals who don’t want to risk their homes or vehicles.
“A lot of the people aren’t from here and have been charged in other places, which doesn’t help us here at all,” Bowen said. He said despite the circumstances, he is optimistic about the future of the battle and Lebanon police are taking steps in the right direction.
He said Lebanon police added an additional detective in July, and he praised the work of meth lab technician Chris Luna.
“Chris has went and made face-to-face visits with Walgreens and local pharmacies, and we’ve received more calls and feedback from pharmacies since.”
Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said in a statement released earlier this year that Walgreens takes the sale of pseudoephedrine products seriously and cooperates with authorities in monitoring efforts. He said Walgreens follows all laws and regulations regarding sales.
A local Walgreens representative could not be reached for comment.