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Washington County Law Enforcement Hope To Raise Community Awareness Of Drug Abuse

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Washington County law enforcement officials are pushing for more community awareness of drug abuse and addiction through more oversight of pharmacies.

Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan says there are a lot of misconceptions about drug abuse and the reality of highly-addictive methamphetamines.

“When people think about meth labs, they think Breaking Bad, they think a complex, complicated series of beakers and flames, and the sort,” said Jordan. “And that is no longer the most common methodology – it’s now manufactured in Gatorade bottles or plastic two-liter soda bottles.”

Jordan is pushing for increased community education, and is hoping to get more local pharmacies enrolled in a voluntary tracking system that logs sales of pseudophedrine-based products, such as Sudafed, which is often used in the process to cook methamphetamines.

The NPLEX system, which stands for the National Precursor Log Exchange, tracks who purchases certain medications. Jordan said he’s not as worried about the smaller, mom-and-pop pharmacies tracking and recognizing their regular customers as much as he’s concerned about the larger chains keeping a close eye on who is purchasing what.   

“Many of the chains don’t belong to this voluntary reporting system and that curtails the effort to track the sales both by the pharmacists themselves, but also law enforcement to find out who are the people who are running these to the manufacturer, so we can find the manufacturer,” said Jordan.

Jordan, who began his tenure as District Attorney in January, said he has been working with the Washington County Sheriff’s office, and has become more informed of the presence of drug abuse in the region with their help.

Washington County Undersheriff John Winchell said police have busted a handful of methlabs in the past few months, including two in December. Winchell said it can be difficult to track individuals purchasing legally obtainable drugs in order to manufacture meth.

“They’re taking legal substances, combining them to make them illegal,” said Winchell. “There’s so many different avenues they can go to, there’s so many different pharmacies. There’s a pharmacy on almost every corner now, so the problem can be huge.”

Winchell did not want to disclose which pharmacies are participating in the voluntary program.

Jordan said he’s also seeking to further educate the public about the epidemic of opiate abuse. It’s often addiction to prescription painkillers that leads to dependency on heroin, and increased drug trafficking.

“I think what we’re trying to do is just continue the education process to hope to avoid the tragedy that we’re seeing across the country,” said Jordan.

Jordan said he’s working with the sheriff’s office to develop and expand opioid and prescription-drug addiction treatment programs for those beyond the felony level to the user-realm. Jordan said the agencies are seeking ways to prevent the problem, before punishment.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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