Prosecutor warns of meth manufacturers asking others to buy key ingredients

Prosecutor warns of meth manufacturers asking others to buy key ingredients. (WWMT/Manuel Revilla)

Noting that methamphetamine use is seeing a resurgence. Kent County's prosecutor offered a warning Monday: Don't get involved in smurfing, it's a crime.

Smurfing is a trick meth manufacturers use to obtain large quantities of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient for the meth-making process and the active ingredient in most allergy medications. In what is called smurfing, the meth-makers pay a number of different people to buy as much of the medicine as they can, to avoid laws that limit the purchases.

In Michigan, a customer is only allowed to buy nine grams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period.

During a news briefing Monday in Grand Rapids, Kent County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Becker and leaders of the Michigan Pharmacists Association outlined the consequences of smurfing, and how it works.

"If someone comes to you and asks you to purchase some pseudoephedrine for them and they're willing to pay you money to do that, you need to think twice because chances are he or she is probably smurfing and trying to use you as one of the tools for them to cook crystal meth," said Larry Wagenknecht, the chief executive officer of the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

Smurfing was a term used in money laundering, when the money is broken up in to small amounts that do not draw the attention of authorities. The same concept is done by meth manufacturers using several people to make purchases of smaller amounts of pseudoephedrine.

However, it is illegal for a person to ask another person to buy ephedrine or pseudoephedrine for use in meth manufacture and that person can face 10 years in prison. The person who knowingly buys the items to make meth can be charged with conspiracy to manufacture meth, which can carry up to 20 years in prison.

"We're trying to remind all of the public that smurfing is against the law," Wagenknecht said.

Becker said the reason he and others are reminding people of legal consequences to smurfing is because, after some regression, meth is on the rise.

"Everyone's focused on opioids and heroin and there's a huge focus on that. That's a big issue, but I think when you have got an issue popping up we're all focusing on, it's easy for other issues to pop up, and meth is just making a comeback," Becker said.

There is a system in place to help pharmacies track how much of the drug people buy; it's called the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, system. NPLEx system logs how much pseudoephedrine someone buys and pharmacies have used to the system to stop people from buying too much.

“It's allowing folks who need the medicine to get the medication with a very simple step at the pharmacy desk," said Kathleen Slonager, with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.