MADISON

Police in Walworth County, where methamphetamine has been described as an “epidemic,” were cheering Thursday a new state statute intended to make a key methamphetamine ingredient harder to get.

Walworth County sheriff’s Capt. Robert Hall, who is in charge of the county’s drug unit, said the new statute is “excellent” and “great news for law enforcement.”

The statute signed by Gov. Scott Walker requires all Wisconsin pharmacies to use the internet-based National Precursor Log Exchange—commonly known as NPLEx—to record, track and block the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine when necessary.

Meth makers use pseudoephedrine, commonly found in cold medicines such as Sudafed.

Even though individual pharmacies have been cooperating with police, Hall said, police will no longer have to spend hours driving to various pharmacies all across the county to check their logs. Approved law enforcement members now will be able to check records instantly from their offices.

The author of the bill, Rep. Cody Horlacher, R-Mukwonago, said the bill is “another tool in the toolbox for law enforcement in dealing with the drug problem.”

Walworth County officials, who have called meth in the county an “epidemic,” had been calling for the bill prior to its introduction last spring.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration data provided to The Gazette shows Walworth and Rock counties housed 40 percent of the state’s 37 meth labs identified during the 2017 fiscal year—Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017.

Horlacher thanked local and state law enforcement officials for their work on the bill, which he said only tallied one vote against it in either chamber of the Legislature.

Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, voted against the Assembly version of the bill in the summer. Lake Geneva is where prosecutors say a meth lab exploded in a hotel bathroom, causing more than $100,000 in damage and sending multiple people to the hospital.

Horlacher stressed the law does not require people to provide pharmacies with any more information than they already do.

Since the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2006, federal law limits the amount of pseudoephedrine people can buy at one time or in 30 days. Federal law also requires sellers to maintain written or electronic logs tracking information about the buyer and what they bought.

Meth makers have evaded the law by “smurfing,” bouncing from pharmacy to pharmacy to buy legal amounts of pseudoephedrine from each, even though the total exceeds legal limits.

The new state statute changes how the information is collected and shared among law enforcement and pharmacies. Although some major pharmacies already use NPLEx, pharmacies that use paper logs will need to move online.

NPLEx can cross-reference buyer information with 50,000 pharmacies in the system and immediately notify the seller—before the purchase is complete—if the buyer is eligible to complete their purchase, Jim Acquisto, a senior vice president at Appriss, has said. Appriss is the Kentucky company that runs NPLEx, which is available for free.

Law enforcement officials are the only ones outside of pharmacies who can access the information, Acquisto has said, and those officers have to get accounts approved first.

Wisconsin has become the 34th state to require the use of NPLEx. Three of Wisconsin’s four neighboring states—Michigan, Illinois and Iowa—are on the system. Minnesota is not.

State Attorney General Brad Schimel applauded the bill signing in a news release Thursday.

Schimel said states that use NPLEx have seen reductions in “the amount of meth that can be produced in small, home-based meth labs.”

The release states Schimel saw the meth threat coming more than two years ago, and he has since appointed an assistant attorney general to be the state’s meth prosecutor. Schimel and state Department of Justice agents also worked on meth-related training for more than 300 people at a March summit in Trego in northwestern Wisconsin.

Horlacher said meth has not received as much attention as the heroin and opioid epidemics. He also said meth was predominantly seen as a problem in northern Wisconsin.

“We have to get out in front of it (meth),” Horlacher said. “Here’s one of those tools we need in order to be effective in combating it.”

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