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Staying a Step Ahead of Meth Cookers

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By Jason Weinstein.
Pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient found in cold medications - and in methamphetamines. Federal regulations set the following limits on sales of drugs with those ingredients to individuals: 3.6 grams per day and 7.5 grams per 30 days. Stores and vendors are also required to keep them in a locked cabinet, examine photo IDs and train employees. These are big changes from years ago.

"We used to get bottles of 100 tablets, 30 milligrams, 100 tablets. And it would be kept on the shelf, just like Benadryl or anything like that," said Supervising Pharmacist at Lourdes Pharmacy Todd Landry.

But law enforcement says meth cookers are finding ways around these regulations.

"They commonly use a technique called smurfing. They employ a group of people who go to pharmacies throughout the area and they all obtain that maximum amount of pseudophedrine that they can," said Detective Sgt. Matt Cower of the Broome County Sheriff's Office.

These smurfs can take many forms - some taking part in meth production knowingly, and some not.

"The cooks themselves will actually obtain their legal amount of pseudophedrine and then they'll also employ users. They'll give them money sometimes. Sometimes they're using people who are elderly. They'll just give money and say, 'Hey, can you purchase a package of pseudophedrine for me? I have a cold.'"

Pharmacists, like those at Lourdes Pharmacy, use a computer database, scanning IDs to keep track of people's purchases of medications with these ingredients. Along with high-tech tools, police say educating the public could help keep key ingredients out of the hands of meth cooks.

People don't fall victim to the whole idea of, 'Hey, can you take some of my money, will you go in and buy me some pseudophedrine. The general public doesn't understand that is one of the main ingredients, precursors to meth," said Cower.