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State: Look for ‘smurfing’ signs

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Campaign to raise public awareness about illegal purchase of cold medicine

By Sarah Bennett

Gov. Steve Beshear announced the launch of a privately funded statewide campaign Monday aimed at educating the public about “smurfing,” the illegal process of purchasing pseudoephedrine for manufacturers of methamphetamine.

According to a news release, the governor joined members of the General Assembly, representatives of the Kentucky Retail Association, Kentucky Pharmacists Association and Consumer Healthcare Products Association to launch the campaign in Lexington.

The campaign’s goal is to raise public awareness about the illegal practice through signage at pharmacy sales counters, and to warn potential “smurfers.”

Developed by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Kentucky retailers will participate in the campaign on a voluntary basis, according to the governor’s office.

Methamphetamine manufacturing and abuse affect more than the user and his or her family, the governor said.

“Meth has an enormous fiscal and criminal impact on Kentucky, and I am committed to working with leaders across the state to combat the use of this deadly drug,” Beshear said in the release. “Smurfing is a main component of the criminal meth process.”

Ron Eckart, director of the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force, said the illegal purchase of pseudoephedrine is an issue in Hardin County.

A common practice, he said, is for a group of individuals to visit a store, and while one purchases pseudoephedrine, others will buy different meth ingredients, such as lithium batteries or starter fluid.

Once a meth user purchases pseudoephedrine, he or she sells it to a manufacturer for money or finished product.

According to Eckart, manufacturers used to pay “smurfers” about $25. The exchange now is upward of $50 or half of a gram of meth.

What police can charge users with depends on what they have on them at the time of arrest, he said.

 “If you have pseudo and you’re going to sell it to someone to make meth or trade it for meth, that’s unlawful possession of a meth precursor,” Eckart said.

According to Kentucky Revised Statutes, unlawful possession of a methamphetamine precursor is a Class C felony for the first offense. It’s punishable by five to 10 years in prison upon conviction.

However, if a user is found in possession of two or more ingredients used to make methamphetamine, Eckart said he or she could be charged with manufacturing.

That is a Class B felony, according to KRS, and punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.