Opinion: Stop smurfing for Michigan meth heads

David Leyton and Chris Becker
The CVS logo is seen infront of one of its stores in Washington, D.C. on The pharmacy chain CVS has agreed to buy medical insurer Aetna for around $69 billion, according to reports.

As the prosecuting attorneys in two of Michigan’s largest counties, we see it all. And one of the more difficult problems we see affecting our communities is Michigan’s meth problem. The impact of this deadly drug is devastating.

Meth is incredibly dangerous and hurts not only the user but also their family and our community. For years, we have been working hard in the fight against meth.

In 2010, law enforcement seized a record 760 local meth labs. A common thread with many of these seizures was the diversion of pseudoephedrine (PSE) to aid in meth production. PSE is an ingredient found in common cold and allergy medicines like Zyrtec-D and Claritin-D. These medicines are used by countless law-abiding Michiganians every day to relieve their congestion symptoms.

To ensure Michigan families could still conveniently access common over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines while also stopping meth-making criminals, Michigan adopted the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) system. You might not be familiar with the name, but NPLEx is the system where your pharmacist scans your ID and has you sign a log when you buy medicines containing PSE. The system records purchases of PSE and notifies retailers if a purchaser has reached their legal limit, stopping the sale. 

Since NPLEx’s introduction, the number of meth labs seized in Michigan has significantly declined. According to the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA)’s 2018 Drug Threat Assessment, the number of meth labs has decreased nationwide by 78%.

The fact of the matter is that, thanks to the success of NPLEx and the incredible work of pharmacists, lawmakers and law enforcement, we are winning the fight against domestic meth production. We see this, in part, because meth production has primarily shifted to Mexican drug cartels, with over 97% of the meth seized by law enforcement originating in Mexico. 

But that does not mean that there is not a problem anymore in Michigan. Criminals often seek ways to work around the law. We must stay vigilant.

Some of the few remaining local meth makers have attempted to skirt the law by asking or even paying other people to buy medications containing PSE on their behalf. This process is called smurfing and is another hurdle we must address to end the local production of meth.

It has a funny name, but smurfing is no joke. Given that many people are unaware that smurfing is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine, raising public awareness is essential to preventing smurfing and the local meth production it enables. We have and we will continue to prosecute this crime.

To increase awareness of the dangers of smurfing, Michigan launched an anti-smurfing campaign in 2017 to educate consumers. This year, we are working to spread the word, working alongside the Michigan Pharmacists Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, because we have watched our state struggle with meth and have seen its real impact on our communities.

Thanks to the NPLEx system and Michigan’s anti-smurfing laws, we have made real progress in stopping the production of meth in Michigan. Now that you know more, you can help us spread the word too. 

David Leyton is the Genesee County Prosecutor. Chris Becker is the Kent County Prosecutor.