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Meth Watch seeks public's eyes

By Doug LeDuc of The News-Sentinel

With winter comes the cold and flu season, and what could be the perfect time to recruit northeast Indiana residents to a new program called Meth Watch.

State and local police officials, and the Drug & Alcohol Consortium of Allen County, announced plans Monday to distribute 400 kits retailers can use to explain their participation in the drug-prevention campaign and invite public participation.

A news conference was held at an Illinois Road Lassus Bros. BP convenience store because the chain had reached out to us to ask what they could do with drug-prevention efforts, said Jerri Lerch, executive director for the consortium. Other retailers have been very supportive as well.

It's good timing, because awareness among consumers will be critical as they encounter new purchasing requirements for decongestants this winter.

Because some over-the-counter drugs can be used to make methamphetamine, a law that took effect July 1 requires retailers to keep medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine behind a counter, in a locked case or directly in front of a pharmacy counter with video surveillance.

Under the new law, customers must provide a state or federal identification card and sign an Indiana State Police log certified by a clerk to buy a decongestant. Consumers may buy no more than 3 grams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine at a time and no more than 3 grams in seven days.

A typical adult-strength tablet contains 30 milligrams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, so 100 tablets would be the legal limit. Common brand names include Sudafed and Afrin. The Lassus store, which now keeps the cold and allergy medicine in a plastic stand accessible only to employees working the cash register, limits customers to no more than two packages of cold medicine per purchase.

Buying the medicine requires an extra minute or two, because you've got to look at their ID, and they write down all kinds of stuff: their name, address, ID number and how much they buy, said Lassus clerk Chris Busse. But customers get used to the new routine quickly, he said.

The kits police are distributing to retailers include a Meth Watch label to be posted on the front door of the business, information on the program, report forms, brochures, an employee training video, posters exhibiting shelf products that may be used in meth production and shelf tags retailers can use with those items.

Niki Crawford, a sergeant with the State Police meth suppression unit, said the posters will acquaint people with meth manufacturing ingredients beyond cold and allergy medicine. Those include lithium batteries, acetone, starter fluid, drain cleaner, rock or table salt, lye, matchbooks, rubbing alcohol, iodine, camping fuel and gasoline additives.

No one is required to report unusual purchases of these other items, but were more than happy to take these tips, Crawford said.

A retailer could request identification for the purchase, or make a note of the buyers license plate and phone it in to police, she said.

Meth Watch is important, because meth has become a bigger problem in Indiana than cocaine, Crawford said. Last year, authorities discovered more than 1,500 illegal meth labs in the state.

Fort Wayne News Sentinel (http://www.fortwayne.com/)

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