Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition raises questions with Manchester pseudoephedrine ordinance; second reading scheduled for Tuesday
Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition executive director Kristina Clark issued a press release Friday expressing concern over Manchester’s proposed ordinance that would ban over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine-based medicines.
“Though many proponents of this ordinance are expressing that access to lawful citizens will not be denied due to pharmacists being able to prescribe pseudoephedrine, the truth is local legislation does not have the authority to give pharmacists that right,” the statement reads. “Both doctors and pharmacists have incredibly strict governing bodies that must be adhered to in order to keep their hard-earned licenses.”
The ordinance, which passed the first of three required readings at the Aug. 6 Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting with a vote of 4-2, would make over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine inside the Manchester City Limits illegal in hopes of curbing methamphetamine production. Drugs such as popular decongestant Sudafed, which is also a prominent ingredient in meth, would be available in Manchester by prescription only should the ordinance pass.
It is scheduled for a second reading at 6:30 p.m. at Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting at Manchester City Hall.
The release by the anti-drug coalition also calls for leaders to find better solutions and to “be leaders in this effort” rather than follow other municipalities, such as those in Franklin County that have already passed similar ordinances.
“Issues such as this prove the need to have all parties sitting at the table to discuss a solid, researched-based plan of attack for meth abuse and its effect on our community. Meth is a problem in Coffee County, particularly among the adults in our community, and the coalition, of course, views this issue as a priority,” the release states. “We commend the leaders of Manchester City for wanting to work towards policies that fight the meth issue. We need leaders who take such initiative. That said, great policies take time to research and should be comprehensive in order to create the needed change.
“Coffee County and its leaders have proven their ability to be innovative in the past. Let’s not jump on someone else’s bandwagon. If we pull together our leaders and interested parties to create a plan to combat meth use in Coffee County, including policy options, we can create lasting and substantial change in our community that other communities in Tennessee will want to duplicate. I challenge Coffee County to be leaders in this effort and not followers.”
The statement also points out discrepancies in statistics involving meth production in areas where pseudoephedrine is limited.
“On a national level, both proponents and opponents of this legislation have misrepresented the effects of making pseudoephedrine prescription only. Enough research has not been done or time passed in states that have this legislation to prove claims of meth production control. Much like when Tennessee put pseudoephedrine behind the counter, there is often a substantial reduction only to see a steady rise later due to creative criminals and legislative loopholes.”
The anti-drug coalition is a collaborative community organization that works with all sectors of the community, including law-enforcement, local officials and medical professionals.
“It is the main focus of the coalition to apply evidence-based practices and policies to reduce the use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, prescription and illicit drugs,” the press release states.
Advocates say it could be fix for meth
Proponents of the ordinance, such as alderman Ryan French, who sponsors the bill, insist it will make the community safer.
“I feel this would dramatically curb the direction of public safety in our community and I’m being told I have to listen to an opinion from someone that has shown their policies fail,” French said before the ordinance passed its first reading Aug. 6. “One great thing about local politics and local government is the first person I hear from is my neighbors. I don’t hear from drug companies and lobbyists, there is no money between me and my decision.
“I knew there was some controversy but I brought it forward because I thought it was the right thing to do. I feel like our city needs to lead rather than follow a legislature that has consistently driven the bus off the bluff. I don’t think we should listen to their guidance.”
French later admitted during the meeting that the move could be nothing more than symbolic if it is shot down by the state.
“It may be nothing more than a symbolic statement,” French said. “If communities continue to pass this someone [at the state] is eventually going to have to listen to the people who are passing these rather than drug companies and lobbyists.”
The community-driven movement dubbed “stop meth now” started in Franklin County with multiple municipalities – including Winchester, Decherd, Huntland, Estill Springs and Cowan – passing similar measures. The Franklin County commission also passed the measure and so have municipalities in Grundy County.
But Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee said that his city will not be jumping on board.
“We are prepared to let the state deal with it if it will,” Curlee said. “We don’t plan to bring it up. We will wait and let the state deal with it. If we find out some compelling reason [to do so] or the state suggests we take action then we would but otherwise we will wait.”
Questions arise over legality
According to state legislators and Manchester city attorney Gerald Ewell, the argument over whether or not the ordinance will actually work may be irrelevant because it probably won’t hold up in court.
“Even if it is unconstitutional and beyond the city’s power to pass it, what happens then? Do we have somebody sue us to set aside our ordinance? Do we wait for the state legislature to attempt to void it? I think both of those things could occur,” Ewell told the board at the Aug. 6 meeting according to a taped recording obtained by the Times. “But my opinion remains. Looking at constitutional law and legal analysis this subject at the city level is not to be regulated.
“You could say what if we do [pass it] what happens then? The state legislature could vote to overturn or rescind it. Number two, somebody could sue us,” Ewell added.
Ewell advised the board of several scenarios in which a lawsuit could manifest.
“Somebody has a cold and doesn’t want to go to the doctor [could sue us],” explained Ewell. “Some pharmacist that the city writes a ticket to [could sue us]. Those are the people that become criminals in this.”
State Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, who authored the state’s “I Hate Meth Act,” calls the legislation by cities like Winchester, “bad public policy.”
In a recent Tennessean editorial, Beavers wrote, “I can personally attest that this law was intended as a comprehensive response to our state’s meth problem, with the secondary function of supplanting any attempt by localities to act on this issue in the future. The localized piecemeal approach taking place right now is exactly what we were trying to avoid with the passage of the act.”
Laws passed by cities in Franklin and Grundy counties, according to Beavers, are a violation of existing law.
“The main concern is that cities do not have the authority to do this,” said Dennis Huffer, a member of the Tennessee Municipal Attorneys Association (TMAA).
Huffer recommends that any other city wait for authoritative advice from the state attorney general before proceeding to do something they possibly can’t do.
“The state law appears to leave little ground for cities to act in this area,” he said.
The Tennessee Municipal Attorney’s Association (TMAA) issued an email with the advice of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) and the Tennessee Municipal League (TML) last month urging cities to use caution because these ordinances restricting over-the-counter sales would “lack validity.”
“TML and MTAS are of the opinion that federal and state law occupies the field in regulating these drugs and that ordinances adopted by cities would be of doubtful validity,” the email reads. “See particularly T.C.A. 39-17-431. MTAS is urging cities to be cautious and obtain an attorney general opinion approving cities’ authority in this regard before adopting such an ordinance.”
The threat of the city acting outside the law is the reason Manchester Alderman Cheryl Swan voted against the measure.
“First and foremost, I fully support every law enforcement officer and department for their efforts in combating the methamphetamine problem we face as a community,” Swan said in an email statement. “The effects that this drug has on families and friends are both devastating and heartbreaking. However, we the governing body were advised by our city attorney that we do not possess the legal authority to pass an ordinance requiring prescription to obtain Sudafed. Regardless of how I feel personally, I am required to act within the legal boundaries of our city charter and the laws of the State of Tennessee, therefore I voted no for the proposed ordinance.”
Swan and Tim Pauley voted against the measure during the first reading. French, Donny Parsley, Roxanne Patton and Russell Bryan voted in favor.
Pharmacists speak out
Dawn Hafer with Baker Brothers Drug Company in Manchester says the current system is helping to control pseudoephedrine just fine. She says the proposed restrictions will make things “more difficult” for the public.
“The effort here is to control the production of methamphetamine,” Hafer said. “If that is the effort, the Sudafed portion of that recipe is already controlled. Pharmacists and the State of Tennessee have done a fantastic job with the Tennessee Pharmaceutical Association and the NPLEx system that is online. That system records every gram that is purchased in the State of Tennessee for [law enforcement]. So the Sudafed portion is controlled. If you want to control the manufacture of meth, pick another ingredient.”
Currently the state’s “I Hate Meth Act” calls for pseudoephedrine sales to be over the counter and to be tracked using the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) system. Under the law, pharmacies can’t sell more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine per day or more than 9 grams per 30-day period to one person, unless the person has a valid prescription. Law enforcement officials say that system is circumvented by “smurfers” who use multiple identifications at different locations to obtain more than the legal amount of the drug.
Hafer said that if medicines such as Sudafed are made prescription only that pharmacists will not be able to write those prescriptions, which contradicts the argument made by some proponents of the ordinance.
“We are not prescribers. So they will have to go to a prescriber, which is a physician or a clinic … and that will take time away from the physician.”
Manchester physician Jay Trussler, who also serves as the Coffee County Jail doctor and has seen firsthand the effects of meth, said a doctor’s visit may not always be necessary to obtain certain medicines.
“If someone who is an established patient of my practice called and wanted me to call in their Sudafed without coming in and paying a $25 co-pay, I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Trussler explained. “It isn’t a scheduled drug. With certain narcotics the patients have to return each month.
But Trussler cautioned that some doctors could use the move as a money maker.
“There are a lot of good doctors in this town who are diligently trying to do the right things,” explained Trussler. “But there are doctors in this town that would certainly use this as a money maker that would do more to contribute to the meth problems.
Hafer also cautioned that prices could skyrocket.
“When it goes to prescription the price of that product won’t be $5,” explained Hafer. “It will go up tenfold because the labeling will have to change.”
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. The cost range to clean a home of the toxins is between $5,000 and $25,000, according to the report.