Three of the area’s state representatives paid a visit to a local pharmacy Monday to discuss a statewide educational campaign about “smurfing.”
The subject involved is more serious than the cartoon elf characters from which the term is coined.
“Smurfing” is the practice of purchasing cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine to sell to methamphetamine cooks.
Currently, federal law has moved all medicines containing the chemical behind sales counters and purchasers are required to sign when they buy the medications.
Tennessee subscribes to NPLEx — the National Precursor Log Exchange.
It is a service provided by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators to states that require real-time monitoring of drugs containing the primary ingredient of methamphetamine.
State Rep. Eric Watson and state Sens. Todd Gardenhire and Mike Bell were on hand for the awareness campaign’s first visit to a locality since the statewide debut was announced.
They joined Dr. Terry Forshee, president of Cherokee Pharmacy, in discussing the new push for public awareness about the laws pertaining to pseudoephedrine purchases.
“Most Tennesseeans who buy medications containing pseudoephedrine are honest citizens simply trying to treat their cold and allergy symptoms,” Watson said.
“Unfortunately, some criminals buy the products in order to sell them to meth cooks.”
Watson noted the campaign is a voluntary one by participating retail stores and pharmacies.
“We’re putting ‘smurfers’ on notice and letting them know that the public is sick and tired of criminals abusing this program, and the public should know buying these products for strangers or a known meth cook is a crime. It is a serious offense that puts you behind bars,” Watson said.
Bell called meth “a horrible drug that can affect all parts of our community.”
He said the new campaign offers a critical opportunity to inform the public of what remains a major form of meth crime in Tennessee.
“‘Smurfing’ may be a new phenomenon in Tennessee, but we want to bring attention to it before it becomes any more popular,” Bell said.
Gardenhire said those who use the medications in a normal matter “have nothing to worry about.”
“Twenty-four months ago, I had no idea what ‘smurfing’ was,” he said. “If you’re buying medication for someone who eventually makes meth out of it, this campaign is made to put you on notice. This is a very serious crime and you will be caught.”
He said the public awareness efforts would not eradicate the meth problem overnight.
“We still have a long way to go before the domestic meth production and abuse problems are put in the past,” Gardenhire said.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks was not able to attend the conference but issued a statement strongly endorsing the campaign.
“As a husband and father, there is no greater threat to the next generation than the current meth epidemic in Tennessee,” Brooks said.
Forshee said his pharmacy and the community pharmacists of the state are strong supporters of the effort.
“We’re on the front lines. We see it every day,” Forshee said. “We don’t feel that law-abiding citizens should have a hard time getting medications they need. This activity is causing issues for law-abiding citizens getting cold medications they need.”
He said the NPLEx allows a pharmacist to scan a driver’s license and check the person’s drug purchase history relating to pseudoephedrine products.
“We believe in this pharmacy we have seen a definite decrease in people being able to purchase this for illicit purposes,” Forshee said.
Bell said he was appreciative of local pharmacists for taking the lead in slowing the access to meth makers.
“Even before we passed the bill on smurfing, our local pharmacists were taking the lead and not selling to people they didn’t know,” Bell said.
He said a couple of the chain “big box retailers” have taken the same cautionary steps as the smaller pharmacies.
“But, we have some of them in this area who are not taking those steps and I’d like to put them on notice today to be responsible corporate citizens, and responsible local citizens, and watch who they sell this product to,” Bell said.
All four of the state politicians made statements strongly against any measures that would change the limitations and require a prescription to obtain any of the pseudoephedrine-related products.
The Tennessee Pharmacists Association has begun distributing anti-smurfing literature and materials across the state.
The campaign is also hosting a website, Meth-KnowThe Consequences.org. with more information on the laws and penalties for “smurfing.”