However, Jim Acquisto, an executive with Appriss, said NPLEx is helping law enforcement agencies find and shut down meth labs, leading to the sharp increase in lab seizures. West Virginia authorities have requested more than 10,000 searches of the NPLEx system since January, Acquisto said.
"Now that they're able to see all of the transactions, they're able to identify more of the labs that were already there," said Acquisto, vice president of government affairs at Appriss. "It's an unprecedented way of finding everybody who's buying pseudoephedrine. Of course you're going to find more bad guys."
Acquisto said the same thing would happen if the state gave every police officer a radar gun -- speeding tickets would increase, even though the number of drivers exceeding the speed limit didn't change.
Twenty-five states, including West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, have adopted NPLEx.
"We're giving law enforcement a tool so they can detect things better and respond," Acquisto said.
Foster said methamphetamine makers pay acquaintances to buy pseudoephedrine at retail pharmacies, circumventing monthly and yearly limits on purchases of the cold medication. NPLEx blocks sales when purchasers reach the monthly or yearly limit under the law.
"They just get different people or fake IDs," Foster said.
With many West Virginians out of work, meth makers don't have too much trouble finding people to hire and buy pseudoephedrine at multiple pharmacies, Perdue said.
"It's a cottage industry," Perdue said, "and they're buying it legally."
Acquisto said NPLEx helps police officers identify those criminals -- called "smurfers."
"There's no way you would have known who they were before," he said. "There's no way to know it was even happening."
Between 2004 and 2012, Kanawha County law enforcement agencies seized 235 meth labs -- the highest number in West Virginia, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's National Clandestine Lab Register. Only four states had counties with more meth lab busts.
Perdue said more West Virginians are using meth because it's cheap, highly addictive and easy to make.
"You can by everything you need at Walmart and make it in the parking lot," Perdue said. "It's a moneymaker, for people who make enough of it."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.