Last week, the Louisville, Ky.-based company that developed NPLEx said the system was helping West Virginia law enforcement officers shut down meth labs, leading to the significant increase in clandestine lab seizures across the state.
On Tuesday, law enforcement officials acknowledged that NPLEx was an important aid in combating the state's meth epidemic, but they downplayed its role in helping police locate illegal labs.
"NPLEx is a tool, but it's not the answer," Rutherford said. "The large majority of our labs are found by road patrols, based on tips called in."
Goff and Crane said State Police find labs while investigating or making arrests for other crimes.
"The use of NPLEx to actually locate the lab rarely happens," said Goff, a former State Police officer. "The State Police, and most other law enforcement agencies, haven't the resources to sit at computers and search for 'smurfs' [people who buy pseudoephedrine for meth makers]. Other states may have lab task forces like that, but not in West Virginia."
Goff and Crane said meth makers circumvent the tracking system.
"NPLEx automatically limits purchases to the state limits but doesn't deter sales," Goff said. "It only causes meth operators the minor inconvenience of having someone else buy it for them."
During criminal investigations, NPLEx can be used to identify suspects who supplied pseudoephedrine to meth makers, Crane said.
"It's a great tool, but it's used after the fact more so than prior to," he said.
In January, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report that found electronic tracking systems such as NPLEx enforce pseudoephedrine sales limits, but haven't reduced the proliferation of meth labs.
Since 2011, the system has blocked the sale of more than 480,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine in 11 states, according to the report. But some states reported that law enforcement officers' use of the NPLEx system led to 10 percent or less of the meth lab seizures.
On Tuesday, Jim Acquisto, vice president of government affairs at Appriss, the company that developed NPLEx, provided testimonials from South Carolina officers who praised the tracking system. Several officers said they used NPLEx routinely in their meth lab investigations.
"There are law enforcement officers all over the country who swear by it," said Acquisto. "They're better able to identify the bad guys as opposed to not knowing who they are. It's much better to know who's attempting to manufacture methamphetamine than not to know."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.