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Columbia County narcotics investigators call meth 'smurfing' a growing problem


"Smurfing" is a crime narcotics officers and pharmacies are trying to get tough on. (WRDW-TV / July 29, 2011)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday July 29, 2011

EVANS, Ga. -- It's called "smurfing" and narcotics investigators say it's a growing trend in Columbia County. The trend involves a group of people going from store to store buying up ingredients to make methamphetamine.

After a tip, investigators caught three people hopping around pharmacies in Evans and Martinez. When they pulled them over, investigators say the group had all the ingredients for a mobile meth lab.

It's a crime narcotics officers and pharmacies are trying to get tough on.

Over the years Kyle Pulliam, pharmacist and pharmacy owner, has had to crack down on selling Pseudoephedrine. It's a popular decongestant found in cold and allergy medication, and one of the many ingredients used to make meth.

"Anytime somebody comes in for Pseudoephedrine, we'll stop out there with them and see who's getting it, and if it's a questionable character, then obviously it's up to our discretion, but usually we don't give it to them," said Pulliam at the Medical Center West Pharmacy in Evans.

Some pharmacies act as the first line of defense to try and stop drug abuse.

"We have a good relationship with Columbia County and they're just a phone call away," Pulliam said. "We've had people arrested in just a few minutes."

And Thursday, a tip led Columbia County narcotics to three suspects: Melody Anderson, Kyle Keats and Amie Pabe.

"We were able to locate that vehicle and follow them through four, five, six different stores in the Evans and Martinez area," said Columbia County Narcotics Sgt. Tripp Penn. "They went in the store one at a time and purchased different items that are used to make methamphetamine."

Investigators call it "smurfing" and say it's way too easy for criminals.

"It's so simple to go to these different stores, buy the ingredients that you need and you mix it up in a Coke bottle and you can make it while your riding down the road," Penn said.

In 2005, Georgia moved Pseudoephedrine behind the counter and now you must show identification to buy it. They also put restrictions on how much you can buy. Pulliam is strict at his store, but says things could still be tougher.

"It would be nice if they had an electronic system where all the retailers are hooked up to the same system so everybody knows," he said. "Right now, you can't tell that. They can go to three different stores and get it and none of the three stores are going to know where they previously went."

There is a House bill in the works for a national electronic tracking system. It would give pharmacists real time info on a patient's Pseudoephedrine purchases.

For the three people arrested Thursday, they've been charged with possession with the intent to manufacture meth, which is a felony. If convicted, they could face two to 15 years behind bars.

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