CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sales of a common cold and allergy medication could be linked to West Virginia's sharp increase in the number of methamphetamine labs seized this year, according to members of a group investigating the state's meth problem.
Kanawha County pharmacies have sold more than 52,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine so far this year, the highest per-capita sales rate in West Virginia.
Kanawha also has reported eight times as many meth lab busts this year than any other county in the state.
Nicholas County had the next highest pseudoephedrine sales rate, followed by Putnam, Wood, Harrison and Wetzel counties.
"The top counties are the 'Who's Who' of meth labs," said Mike Goff, a former West Virginia State Police trooper who now works for the state Board of Pharmacy. "The issue is: We know a lot of [pseudoephedrine] is being diverted."
The sales figures were presented last week at a meeting led by the Kanawha Coalition for Community Health Improvement. State lawmakers, law enforcement officers, paramedics, health officials and pharmacists sit on the committee that examines West Virginia's meth epidemic.
Kanawha County's pseudoephedrine sales were twice the state average, according to Pharmacy Board data.
Kanawha has 10 percent of the state's population, but its pharmacies sold 22 percent of the total number of boxes of the nonprescription drug sold statewide since January.
"Kanawha County sold more than a quarter of a box per person," Goff said.
Kanawha law enforcement has reported 56 percent of all meth labs seized in West Virginia so far this year.
In January, West Virginia started using an electronic tracking system designed to curb sales of pseudoephedrine. The computerized National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, has blocked sales of nearly 10,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine statewide from would-be buyers who exceeded new monthly and yearly purchasing limits, according to Pharmacy Board data.
In Kanawha County alone, NPLEx blocked the sales of almost 4,000 boxes of the cold medication that's used to manufacture meth.
West Virginia adopted the tracking system as part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's substance-abuse legislation in 2012.
Earlier this year, the Louisville company that developed NPLEx said the system was helping West Virginia officers shut down meth labs, leading to a significant increase in clandestine lab seizures across the state.
However, Mike Rutherford, chief deputy at the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, said most labs are found by road patrols, from tips and through investigations of other crimes -- not because of NPLEx. Meth makers hire "smurfers" to buy pseudoephedrine legally and subvert the tracking system, he said.