Gov't Tracks Individual Pharmacy Buys

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If you don’t want the police at your door unexpectedly, it’s best not to have too many colds and allergies.

Several Kentucky residents found themselves explaining Sudafed purchases to authorities recently, after buying the non-prescription medicine to treat their symptoms, reports National Public Radio. Unbeknownst to them, the government had recently begun using a “MethCheck” tracking program to identify pharmacy customers who bought substantial quantities of the drug, which can be used to manufacture illegal methamphetamine.

The program collects customer data, and then e-mails police about suspicious Sudafed purchases. Federal law limits customers to a total of about six packages per month.

Initial efforts to use MethCheck to track purchases have focused on Kentucky, which has a substantial problem with methamphetamine abuse. The monitoring program has been tested in Laurel County since 2005, and should be in use in some 7,000 pharmacies in 43 states by next year, according to a spokesman for Appriss Inc., the Louisville, Ky., company that developed it, reports the Associated Press.

Privacy advocates worry that people with colds or allergies could be targeted simply because they are stocking up on needed medication–and that has already happened to at least eight people in Kentucky, according to AP. But authorities say MethCheck evidence only results in a police interview, not an arrest. “It’s just an investigative tool,” says Van Ingram of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

A new and more sophisticated version of MethCheck is being developed that will notify police about a large number of purchases in the same neighborhood. That should help foil criminals’ efforts to band together to buy large amounts in small quantities that otherwise fly under the computer-detection radar, authorities say.

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