ProjectStop drug database is under threat

A DATABASE used to bust “ice” manufacturing rings is under threat at a time when police and health experts are urging it be expanded.

The monitoring system has allowed police and pharmacists to track pseudoephedrine purchases since 2007.

The cold and flu medication is a key ingredient in making methamphetamine.

“ProjectStop” allows pharmacists to enter the driver’s licence details of those who buy pseudoephedrine into a database used by investigators.

But the program is at risk beyond this year because of an absence of state and federal government funding.

“We’ve seen a decrease in the number of people travelling around with hundreds of packets of cold and flu packets since ProjectStop has started,” Victorian clandestine laboratory squad Detective Sergeant Campbell McNair said.

“Before ProjectStop started, we’d stop cars that were full of pseudoephedrine. You don’t see that any more.”

Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry into ice has heard at least six calls from police and health professionals for the system to be mandatory for all pharmacies and receive ongoing funding.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, which operates ProjectStop at an annual cost of about $500,000, has said the project was at risk.

The guild’s Victorian president Anthony Tassone said there had been “conjecture” over whether funding should come from the state or federal governments.

“We can’t guarantee beyond this year that ProjectStop will continue without government support,” he warned.

As authorities bicker, drug gangs continue to get their hands on pseudoephedrine.

Sergeant McNair said drug cooks had multiple “pseudo-runners” who targeted pharmacies across the state in return for cash or drugs.

Pharmacists said these pseudo-runners did not fit stereotypes. They were also canny, using multiple ID cards and knowing the answers most likely to get them the drug.

“They know all the types of drugs that are available, so they will say that they have an allergy to the alternatives,” Wodonga pharmacist Zac Nesbitt said. “We only get played by the very clever ones. They don’t use the idiots at the moment.”

ProjectStop is mandatory in three states, but is voluntary in Victoria, with about 20 per cent of pharmacists opting out. Research has found the state’s authorities could have missed out on catching hundreds of traffickers.

A spokesman for Victorian Health Minister David Davis said the government would make no commitment to funding ProjectStop, but would discuss pseudoephedrine diversion at a “national level”.