The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 8 | August 2008

COPS and NAMSDL Join Forces to Assist States in Combating Precursor Diversion

The federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) and similar state laws that require limiting and documenting retail sales of methamphetamine precursors have led to significant reductions in domestic clandestine laboratories. Nevertheless, “smurfs” still thwart these restrictions by buying up to the legal limit of such products at different stores to obtain sufficient quantities for methamphetamine production. A number of jurisdictions, therefore, are seeking to augment CMEA-type laws with tracking systems that amass sales information from all regulated outlets in a central repository so the data can be actively monitored to identify evidence of cumulative violations.

As part of this effort, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office) and the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL) recently cosponsored the National Chemical Control Symposium: A Focus on Tracking Precursor Chemicals to explore both the state-of-the-art and the future of these systems. Convening June 10 and 11 near Chicago, Illinois, the symposium brought together experts and representatives from a variety of disciplines, including law enforcement, information technology, law, pharmacy, civil liberties, and retail distribution. While the discussions were spirited and sometimes pointed, the diversity of perspectives provided an enlightening and comprehensive overview of the latest antidiversion strategies. The primary lesson learned: collaboration among stakeholders is a key element in building a successful tracking program.

After introductory remarks by COPS Director Carl Peed and NAMSDL CEO Sherry Green, representatives from Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee discussed the history, development, and operation of their states’ tracking programs. Each offered a great deal of insight and hard-won experience on the challenges and benefits of electronic data collection and reporting. A NAMSDL research attorney then provided an overview of the legal landscape in which these systems operate. He noted that while legislative interest in tracking programs has been keen, few tracking bills have actually passed, largely because of concerns about privacy, liability, and start-up costs. Some states, however, have interpreted their existing laws as authorizing these programs and have forged ahead without new legislation. The keynote luncheon address was delivered by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan whose speech focused on Illinois’ multipronged approach to methamphetamine policy. Afternoon sessions were devoted to the topic of data collection, including discussions of what information is relevant and necessary to comply with existing law, modes of collection, analytical methods, and automated systems and standards. One of the day’s highlights was a presentation on confidentiality and privacy issues by Bob Boehmer, director of the Institute for Public Safety Partnerships at the University of Illinois. These are among the most controversial aspects of precursor tracking, and Mr. Boehmer discussed relevant law and emphasized the importance of establishing policies to protect information that are clear, transparent, and well-publicized. Methodology, according to Mr. Boehmer, is as important as content.

The perspective shifted the next morning with presentations by representatives from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy. While expressing some concern on behalf of retailers and consumers about certain aspects of precursor tracking—including retailer safety, product availability, and the burdens of record-keeping—the presenters acknowledged tracking’s benefits and expressed a desire to collaborate in the development of these systems. Two officials from the United States Department of Justice discussed funding opportunities and ways in which the federal government can support states that are interested in establishing tracking programs. Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association, followed up with a spirited presentation on Oregon’s alternative to tracking: the classification of methamphetamine precursors as controlled substances requiring a prescription. According to Mr. Bovett, Oregon’s approach has essentially eliminated functional meth labs from the state, offers substantial savings in enforcement costs, and was achieved with virtually no public outcry. Finally, a Drug Enforcement Administration official highlighted current trends in methamphetamine production and the implications for state drug policy. While domestic meth production has decreased, foreign traffickers have attempted to fill the void. International efforts are underway to monitor and regulate precursor sales more closely, while traffickers are looking for chemical alternatives to traditional meth precursors. States, meanwhile, are likely to have an increasingly active role in antidiversion efforts because the enactment of more stringent laws in other countries may lead to a resurgent interest in finding domestic sources of supply.

The COPS Office and NAMSDL are pleased to have been able to present this timely and informative symposium. Participants and attendees responded very favorably to the conference and left armed with information and contacts that will help them continue America’s highly effective offensive against domestic meth production. Copies of symposium PowerPoint presentations can be downloaded from NAMSDL’s web site at www.namsdl.org. The COPS Office and NAMSDL remain eager to assist jurisdictions with technical information and research on precursor tracking and other antidiversion strategies.

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