An ordinance that would have banned over-the-counter sales of medicine containing pseudoephedrine in hopes of curbing methamphetamine production in the Manchester City Limits was tabled by the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen at its meeting Tuesday.
Whether or not the city has the legal authority to enact such a ban and force anyone looking for decongestants such as Sudafed to obtain a prescription appears suspect.
Tennessee Senate Bill 1265 – also known as the “I Hate Meth Act” – calls for products containing an immediate methamphetamine precursor (such as Sudafed) to be maintained behind the counter of a pharmacy or in a locked case within view.
Subsection N of that law appears to be the roadblock for the Manchester government. It reads: “This section shall supersede any local laws or ordinances currently regulating sales of products containing any immediate methamphetamine precursor.”
Alderman Cheryl Swan seconded the motion to table the ordinance until the board meets again on July 16.
“On the advice from city attorney [Gerald Ewell] we do not have the authority to pass that ordinance,” Swan said after the meeting. “I asked [Ewell] that if we did pass it and if it got challenged in court did he feel like we could beat that and he said no.
“So if a pharmacy somewhere wanted to sue the city, would they take us to court and all that will do is cost the taxpayer’s money.”
Alderman Ryan French, who originally brought the ordinance to the Manchester Safety Committee, still feels like the city could proceed with the measure.
“There is a question in state law whether or not a municipality would have the authority. However, in federal law the legislation is there that if we feel an OTC is being abused that a city can actually take that and make it a prescription only drug. With the state contradicting that, that’s what the question was for and that’s why the table was brought.”
Alderman Tim Pauley made the motion to table the ordinance and voted to table it along with Swan and Russell Bryan. French abstained and Donny Parsley voted against shelving the measure, wanting a vote to be taken immediately. Alderman Roxanne Patton was absent.
The push comes after similar measures have worked through municipalities in Franklin County as part of a “Stop Meth Now” campaign. Last month, Winchester, Huntland, Decherd and Estill Springs all passed ordinances requiring prescriptions for medicines containing pseudoephedrine. Huntland and the Franklin County Commission are also considering similar measures despite no pharmacies being active in those jurisdictions. French said municipalities have taken up the cause citing failure by the state legislature to do so.
“I’m disappointed that our state legislature hasn’t taken this in a serious way,” French said before taking the ordinance before the safety committee in June.
“The passing of [statewide] law in Oregon and Mississippi have shown big improvements in meth labs,” French added. “Those types of improvements are so significant that it is a no brainer to pass something like that.”
When asked how the ordinances in Franklin County could be considered inside the law, Ewell said, “That’s Franklin County’s problem. Not mine.
“Our board voted to table it because of the concern of subsection N.”
State representative Judd Matheny, whose name is on the “I Hate Meth Act,” told the Times last month he would be in favor of banning over the counter sales of pseudoephedrine and that “once 20 or 30 municipalities” instigated a ban, the state would likely follow suit.
“I think that next year the state will [make it prescription only],” Matheny said. Currently, the only two states with a statewide ban are Oregon and Mississippi.
The Times attempted to reach out to Matheny again Wednesday for his interpretation of subsection N, but a phone call and text message were not returned before this story was posted.
“I plan to send Mr. Matheny a letter and ask where his office stands on [subsection N],” Ewell told the Times.
Even if the ordinance were to pass the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen, some question how much it will do to combat the problem without a statewide ban.
“The [Tennessee Pharmacist Association] has been opposed to this because of limitations to people who need it,” said Manchester pharmacist Ray Marcrom with Marcrom’s Pharmacy. Marcrom cited a price of “less than $10” for a month’s supply of the popular sinus medicine Sudafed. “I wouldn’t be opposed to it because I am all for whatever will stop what is going on with it.”
Marcom questions whether making the medicine available by prescription only will do much to stop the meth problem. Currently anyone purchasing pseudoephedrine is entered into a live, statewide database called NPLEx to track who is buying the medicine and in what quantities for law enforcement to use to find meth makers.
NPLEx is designed to prevent a person from obtaining more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedriene a day or more than 9 grams in a 30-day period.
“People are going to get it [anyway],” Marcrom said. “That’s probably a bigger issue that it is not bought through a pharmacy but online. I’m not sure it will do what we hope it’s going to do.”
Marcrom compared the market to that of hydrocodone – a popular prescription pain medicine well-documented for being sold and abused.
“Look how well we control hydrocodone – we are not,” said Marcom. “As long as the doctors will write it then it will be used illicitly … and I’m not trying to just throw that on the doctors.”
The meth problem
A study conducted and released by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office shows meth lab incidents in Tennessee rank first in the country. According to the study and the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), there were 2,157 reported methamphetamine lab incidents in Tennessee in 2010. Second was Missouri with 1,998. Kentucky reported 1,361. Border states Mississippi Alabama and Georgia reported 937, 720 and 334, respectively.
Of the 2,157 reported in Tennessee in 2010, 86 were in Coffee County, 99 in Warren County and 70 in Franklin County. Those numbers from the Tennessee Methamphetamine Intelligence System (TMIS) do not include federal or misdemeanor convictions for methamphetamine related offenses, according to the comptroller’s report.
“That whole region of Lincoln, Franklin and Coffee County – that’s ground zero for Tennessee,” said Tommy Farmer, Director of Tennessee Meth and Pharmacy Taskforce with the TBI. “People don’t realize this unless you’ve been in the meth game.”
The past 12 years have been an ongoing effort to combat the problem without taking extraordinary methods, Farmer said.
“We have 12 years of trying everything we can possibly do and spent millions of dollars trying to rid this and combat this,” he said. “We have legislation where we have taken incremental steps to limit access and amounts. We have done everything we can do.
“The FDA let the genie out of the bottle and we would prefer on the national level that the FDA put the genie back in the bottle.”
The comptroller study goes on to highlight other problems other than the actual meth lab. According to the study, Tennessee spent over $4 million in federal funds to clean up methamphetamine lab sites at an average of $2,500 per site.
Also, in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, 722 children were placed in Department of Children’s Services custody for methamphetamine related issues at an estimated cost of $19.6 million. Cost range to clean a home of the toxins ranges between $5,000 and $25,000, according to the report.
-Josh Peterson can be reached by email at email@example.com