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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Guilty Ones Attack Drug-Tracking System

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Would-be meth cookers claim a Louisiana sheriff and police illegally used a private contractor to track their purchases of precursor chemicals at drugstores.

Two plaintiffs, one serving time and one on probation, sued the police agencies and the drugstores, claiming they would not have been arrested had they not been tracked by the National Precursor Exchange website, which is owned and operated by a private contractor, defendant Appriss.

Plaintiff Corina May was convicted and is serving probation for attempted operation of a clandestine laboratory; and Joel Weaver is serving 1 year for accessory after the fact of operation of a clandestine laboratory, they say in their federal complaint.

They sued St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain Jr. and one of his officers, the City of Mandeville and one of its police officers, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, and Appriss.

May and Weaver claim they would not have been arrested but for the St. Tammany sheriff's use of a central computer system provided by Appriss.

"On January 31, 2012, plaintiffs were arrested after purchasing an amount of cold medicine containing the substance pseudoephedrine. At the time, plaintiffs were under surveillance by the above law enforcement defendants," the complaint states.

"Plaintiffs allege that the above arrest was made possible by the use of law enforcement of the National Precursor Exchange Web site ('NPLEx') system, which, on information and belief, is owned and operated by defendant Appriss."

The National Precursor Exchange website tracks sales of over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

The defendant police trade association, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, and a pharmacy trade group, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, helped create the system, according to the complaint.

"Plaintiffs allege that, but for the release of their private information by defendants Walgreens and Rite Aid, collected by a third-party clearinghouse, NPLEx, and not by the State of Louisiana, and, then, dissemination to law enforcement through NPLEx, plaintiffs would not have been arrested. Indeed, Det. Crain testified that, without NPLEx, he would not have stopped plaintiffs," the complaint states.

May and Weaver claim that Louisiana law requires that central computer systems authorized by the state must be located within and operated by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

"Plaintiffs allege that there is no authorization, however, by the Louisiana State Legislature for the outsourcing by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections of the above central computer system to a third party, viz., NPLEx," the complaint states.

It adds that "based on the Louisiana State Supreme Court Case of State v. Skinner, 10 So.3d 1212 (La. 5/5/09), Louisiana law was clear that a warrant was required in order to conduct a search of medical and/or prescription records."

And, they say, federal law makes it "clear that point of sale (POS) information is protected healthcare information (PHI) under HIPAA ('whether oral or recorded in any form or medium')." (Parentheses in complaint.)

So it's clear, the plaintiffs say, that Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Appriss, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators acted in concert with the sheriff and detectives to violate their rights.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction and compensatory and punitive damages for privacy invasion and violations of the 4th and 14th Amendments.

They are represented by Philip Kaplan of Los Angeles and Cameron Mary of Mandeville, La.

Meth cookers can use the pseudoephedrine contained in over-the-counter decongestants to make methamphetamines. The brew requires other toxic chemicals, often including phosphorus, which meth labs seldom dispose of in a safe manner.

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