Drugstore logbooks did little more than collect dust during the first year of East Valley rules that require pharmacists to collect personal information when selling Sudafed and other cold medicines used to brew methamphetamine. In Scottsdale and Chandler, police have never inspected the locally mandated store records in search of meth cooks.
And in Apache Junction, police didn’t know until contacted by the Tribune that the city had an ordinance.
“Nobody had ever told me anything about this,” said Sgt. Steve Kridler, head of police investigations in Apache Junction. “As far as who was monitoring it, I had no clue, only to find out today that the police department is supposed to be monitoring it.”
Even in Phoenix, where detectives routinely comb through the information searching for bulk purchases, the logbooks have not led to a single methamphetamine arrest.
Many East Valley police agencies say they lack the manpower to enforce the ordinances, and some drugstores report no one has ever checked up on them.
Apache Junction police said they will start checking the pharmacy logbooks every month.
In cities such as Mesa, where no local rules exist, police say it’s not their job to keep an eye on the logbooks. Federal laws govern the sale of overthe-counter cold medicines nationwide, so Mesa police leave the books for federal agencies such as the FBI to inspect.
But that never happened in 2006.
Despite the lack of enforcement, officials say the process is curbing the local production of methamphetamine by keeping the most crucial ingredient — pseudoephedrine — away from the producers. Many East Valley consumers and some retailers, however, feel that politicians are just wasting their time.
“In my opinion, the result is zero,” said Scottsdale resident Richard Alt. “To ask the majority to provide this information for the very few problems meth represents is a gross overstepping of our government.”
RETAILERS ONLY CHECKED
In Scottsdale, police are battling meth more on the streets than in the drugstores.
Despite a logbook ordinance that took effect Feb. 13, Scottsdale police Lt. Steve Gesell said his narcotics unit doesn’t rely on the pseudoephedrine sales records to conduct investigations.
Instead, the officers comb the city using informants and undercover officers posing as drug dealers.
“That was our expectation before it was proposed,” Gesell said. “Most of my section’s work involving meth trafficking is going to come across the Mexican border.”
The only enforcement that Scottsdale has taken with the logbooks is ensuring that retailers are in compliance with the ordinance. To date, inspectors have checked about 60 retailers, who were all maintaining proper records, Gesell said.
But not every city is the same.
Chandler and Tempe police said they use the logbooks as “an investigative tool” in drug investigations. However, Chandler police spokesman Sgt. Rick Griner could only recall one case in which a logbook was used since the ordinance went into effect April 12.
He could not recall the date or to what extent the logbook was used.
“Once again, it’s just one of those tools that we can use,” Griner said. “But just like everybody else, we have staffing issues and calls for service.”
Griner said overall enforcement can be challenging because there is no computer system linking drugstores. For example, a person could travel around the city and buy medication from different stores, and police would be unable to notice a trend.
The logbook ordinance is written differently in Phoenix. Officials there track whether people buy the drug from multiple stores by requiring retailers to submit the logs monthly to detectives for inspection.
Phoenix Lt. Rob Robinson said the department has made no meth lab arrests using the logs, but he said the enforcement is an effective deterrent.
“The reason we haven’t seen the type of labs we were seeing before is because it has been successful,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to buy bulk pseudoephedrine now.”
But national experts said drug users are still finding meth.
OUTSOURCING A PROBLEM
Drug addicts are going to do “whatever they need” to get their hands on meth, said Maricopa County sheriff’s Capt. George Hawthorne.
One way they get their fix is through Mexican meth.
The drug is often cheaper and of a higher quality than domestically produced meth.
The average price of meth sold on the streets is about $60 to $80 for up to a week’s worth of the drug.
About 90 percent of the meth seized in Arizona in 2005 was Mexican meth, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. But some experts believe the numbers are closer to 60 percent to 80 percent.
“The Mexicans clearly control the meth influx,” Gesell said. “We just made a seizure of 30 pounds the other day.”
Ramona Sanchez, spokeswoman for the DEA in Phoenix, said that while local meth labs declined in Arizona, methamphetamine smuggled from Mexico increased.
“But that doesn’t mean the labs aren’t around,” Sanchez said.
In 2006, Arizona officials seized 47 meth labs. And in fiscal 2005-06, law enforcement officials confiscated only about half as much meth as the year prior.
Officials blame the decrease on drug smugglers’ increasingly complex methods.
“People do find ways to get creative and get pseudoephedrine,” Sanchez said. “They can have them shipped right to their doorstep.”
Meth cooks can order the pseudoephedrine or ephedrine online, send multiple people into drugstores to buy the medicine or get it from Mexico.
But Hawthorne said meth cooks know that if their name shows up too many places, they’re in trouble.
In that respect, he said the logbooks are a helpful deterrent.
Tempe resident Marion Durham was surprised the first time she had to provide identification to buy over-thecounter cold medicine.
“Whether or not my information makes a single bit of difference in fighting meth use, I have no way to know,” Durham said. “But it did make me wonder who gets to see my information, how long it is on file and how secure it ultimately might be.”
Most retailers plan to keep the logs for two to five years and shred them afterward.
James Bataoel, pharmacist and manager of The Apothecary Shop in Tempe, said he may keep his logbooks forever — or he may shred them after five years. He called the regulations a “good policy” but said police have never checked on his store and likely don’t have the manpower anyway.
“It’s kind of a pain,” Bataoel said. “But it curbs how much people buy of it.”
And some of the consumers share his opinion.
“I think it is a pain in the neck and time-consuming,” said Mesa resident Denise Howison. “But I can see why they have to do it.”
Other consumers have not grown accustomed to handing over their information to buy cold medicine.
Logbooks fit “in the same category as speed humps and taking sewing needles from little old ladies at the airport,” said Todd Anderson of Mesa. “The innocent are punished, the guilty find ways around it, and we all just go along because we feel safer.”
Scottsdale resident Jerry Searcy said he does not like providing his information at the government’s request.
“Of course it can be an effective tool for law enforcement,” he said. But so would “forcing everyone to wear a GPS device, provide a current photograph, DNA sample and retinal scan to law enforcement.”
OFFICIALS SAY IT WORKS
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who advocates a statewide law regulating pseudoephedrine, said most of the people he has spoken with don’t mind the extra effort involved in purchasing cold medicine.
He said the regulations will be most effective when the state passes a law and creates a computer system that links drugstores for better communication.
Despite the lack of enforcement in 2006, Goddard believes in the logbooks’ deterrent effect. “We know the meth cooks don’t want to appear, to show identification,” Goddard said. “They will do anything, including stopping cooking.”
Hawthorne, who is a member of a special task force on drug busts, said he has received helpful leads from pharmacies who have seen people purchase a large amount of cold medicine.
And Tempe officials said the logbooks regularly help in tracking down addresses and identifications during drug cases.
For the most part, large producers have stopped cooking in the U.S., and the few dozen labs police find each year are generally small and exist only to feed the addictions of a few people.
“I’m waiting to see if the number of meth operations that we do declines,” Gesell said about Scottsdale enforcement. “But I really haven’t seen that yet. (Meth) is still there, and it’s a large part of what our undercover guys work on.”