Missouri grocers combat meth manufacturing with sophisticated system that tracks OTC medicine sales

LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Grocers in Missouri are fighting the drug problem head-on. They've been using an elaborate computer system, one that’s designed to prevent sales of over-the-counter medicines used to make meth.

“One thing to make a purchase is you'll have to show proper identification,” Jim Gwinner said, as he approached the pharmacy counter at the Lee’s Summit Price Chopper store.

An everyday purchase is a mundane moment that can make a difference in the fight against methamphetamine.

“Every transaction is visible to law enforcement,” Gwinner said.

Gwinner, a spokesperson for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, gave reporters a rare peek at N-Plex, a software application that tracks the sale of any product with pseudoephedrine. That substance is found in most over-the-counter allergy medicines, and it can be used to make meth. The Missouri Grocers Association also participated in the demonstration.

“In the last couple of years, we've seen a 400 percent decline in the meth lab incidents around the state,” Gwinner said.

Gwinner says N-Plex software has helped lower that number. Purchases of pseudoephedrine are immediately recorded and transmitted to law enforcement, and if the buyer is over the legal limit, the cashier has to say ‘no sale.’

“When an officer is following a suspect, or following purchase patterns at a location, they can put these alerts in there,” Gwinner commented.

If police believe the buyer is a threat to make meth, officers can arrest them. When the customer is blocked at the point of sale, they're told to call a toll free number where they can ask for more information about why they were refused service.

Gina Maninno has worked at the Lee's Summit Price Chopper pharmacy since 2000. She loves the N-Plex system because she knows immediately if a customer is over their legal limit for pseudoephedrine.

“You have your suspicions sometimes. Sometimes, they try to get more than they can. The system won't let you even if you're not familiar with the exact number of milligrams you can sell in a day,” Maninno said.

Gwinner says small stores which can't afford N-Plex technology at the cash register can still use the company's internet portal. He says, so far, 32 states are using N-Plex and he believes more will follow suit. The company that makes N-Plex says grocers in Kansas are also using their software application.