As a member of the Virginia law enforcement community, I read Carten Cordell’s recent article, “New VA Law Helps Criminalize ‘Sniffles’ And Invades Privacy” with great interest. The article paints an ominous—albeit inaccurate— picture of the anti-meth legislation recently passed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Bob McDonnell. To hear Cordell tell it, the law’s real-time, stop-sale system constitutes an invasion of privacy that will lead to the arrest of law-abiding Virginians who attempt to purchase more than legal limit of medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE)—a popular decongestant misused by criminals to manufacture methamphetamine.
Cordell’s contention couldn’t be further from the truth. For starters, NPLEx was created to be a reasonable alternative to extreme legislation that restricts the basic rights of citizens. To combat meth production, some states have either implemented or considered a prescription mandate, which forces law-abiding consumers to consult with a doctor before buying popular cold and allergy medicines—an ordeal that leads to higher costs, doctor’s shortages, and lost wages.
The approach chosen by Virginia, known as the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), protects consumers’ access to popular cold and allergy medicines containing PSE by providing pharmacists with a mechanism to prevent illegal sales before they happen. A crucial point that Cordell misses is that NPLEx stops individuals before they can make an illegal purchase. The real-time, stop-sale system would be useless, in other words, if it allowed people to make illegal purchases. Under Virginia’s new law, attempting to make an illegal purchases—whether knowingly or unknowingly—does not violate the law.
NPLEx helps law enforcement make arrests, not by tricking people into making illegal purchases, but by allowing law enforcement to monitor purchasing patterns. An individual buying small quantities of PSE in multiple locations throughout the state, for instance, might tip off law enforcement to illegal, meth-related activity. But a parent unaware that she is about to exceed her PSE purchasing when buying cold medicine for a child would not be subject to arrest or prosecution under any circumstances. Much like a failed credit card transaction, a pharmacist would simply inform her that her purchase has been declined due to the PSE purchasing limit.
To be sure, no law—especially brand a new law—is ever perfect. But NPLEx offers law enforcement officials and pharmacists with a reasonable and effective tool to gain the upper hand against meth criminals while protecting and respecting the rights of responsible Virginia families and workers. I commend the Virginia General Assembly for choosing NPLEx and Governor McDonald for signing it into law.
Now let’s give it some time to work
J. D. “Danny” Diggs
Sheriff of York County & Poquoson
York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office