Over the past 15 years, federal and state meth laws have severely restricted the ingredients and supplies necessary to make meth. These laws have included limiting the amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine-containing medication that a person could purchase. Some states only allowed a purchase of three packages at a time. A loophole in the previous meth laws did not include limits on cold and allergy medicines sold in blister packs (plastic bubbles with foil backing). Illegal meth makers seem to always be one step ahead of lawmakers, and "smurfing" is an example of this.23
Smurfing is the slang term for driving from one store to the next to buy packages of cold medicines and other meth-making supplies. (The term is named after the little blue
cartoon characters who gathered items in similar ways.) The goal is to buy hundreds or thousands of these over-the-counter medicines without arousing the suspicion of store clerks. Stores that sell these products have to keep sales records for these medicines, and they are trained to report any suspicious buying patterns to the police. Three packages at each store and unlimited purchases of blister packs, multiplied by dozens of stores equals a lot of meth precursors.10, 11
Sometimes meth abusers hire themselves out as smurfs, and trade the pills for meth. Other times it is the meth cooks themselves who do the smurfing. According to Robert Pennal, head of the Fresno Meth Task Force in California, smurfs punch the pills out of the blister packs and put them in plastic bags while saving the empty packs. Whoever hired them wants to see the actual packs to make sure of the product they are receiving. The smurfs turn over their receipts, and the drug dealer often pays them triple their "investment" in return. In larger scale operations, sophisticated pill-punching machines are used to remove the thousands of pills from their packaging.
A new law passed in 2006 might signal the end of smurf-ing. Among other things, it eliminates the blister pack loophole and puts all cold medicines behind locked cabinets to deter meth manufacturers.10, 11
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