DANVILLE — Law enforcement officials have seized 23 methamphetamine labs in Vermilion County since January, but police credit the ability to block and track the sale of pseudoephedrine at pharmacy counters as one of the most vital tools in their arsenal.
That's why Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Wednesday in Danville that she will work with two state legislators in the upcoming fall veto session to extend a program that allows pharmacies to block the legal sale of certain amounts of pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient.
The program has been running statewide since June 2010 but is set to expire in January unless state law is amended.
During a news conference Wednesday at the Danville Public Safety building with local and state law enforcement officials, Madigan also announced a new awareness campaign that targets people who buy pseudoephedrine products and sell them to meth makers. Madigan emphasized that it's a crime, and posters sending that message will be placed in pharmacies across Illinois.
Madigan said methamphetamine remains a problem locally and statewide. She compared it to a virus that mutates as the state creates laws to combat its spread, and she blamed meth's addictive power and the fact that anyone can make it, as primary reasons it continues to evolve.
"It remains probably the most addictive drug," Madigan said.
Madigan said meth makers are now producing smaller amounts at a time in methods called "one pot" or "shake-n-bake," because state laws have been effective in limiting their ability to buy large amounts of pseudoephedrine at once.
They mix the drug, she said, in two-liter plastic bottles, producing three to seven grams of the drug, and it's often done in the back seat of a vehicle just after buying a legal amount of pseudoephedrine at a pharmacy.
For several years, state law has required anyone buying pseudoephedrine products to show identification and sign a log at the pharmacy. Since 2006, state law has also prohibited a person from buying, at one time, more than two packages containing pseudoephedrine and prohibits buying more than 7,500 milligrams, or about 10 boxes, of pseudo ephedrine within a 30-day period.
Initially, the purchase information was recorded on paper logs maintained by the pharmacies and couldn't be shared among pharmacies. Madigan said investigators had to go from pharmacy to pharmacy checking logs to track purchases and often the paper logs were not legible. The computer program records pseudoephedrine information in a database that's accessible to pharmacies statewide and to law enforcement, and the law Madigan wants to extend allows pharmacies to block the sale of pseudoephedrine if that system identifies that a person has reached the limit.
Since it began in June 2010, pharmacies across the state have blocked the sale of more than 70,000 boxes of products containing pseudoephedrine, including 1,375 boxes in Vermilion County, the highest in the state, according to Madigan. The tracking system allows the pseudoephedrine purchasing information to be shared in real time among pharmacies statewide.
Don Payton with the Illinois State Police said drug manufacturers are funding the program.
Local law enforcement officials said the database also provides them with very useful investigative information about who is trying to make large purchases of pseudo ephedrine.
Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn said it's one of the most important tools law enforcement has in fighting meth, and the Illinois Sheriff's Association will be supporting the extension of the program this fall in Springfield. Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said it's been a great tool for local police, and the program must be made permanent.
"These are laws that need to be in place," he said.