With the Tennessee state legislature so far unwilling to introduce a prescription restriction on pseudoephedrine, some local governments are hoping to take the fight to methamphetamine production on their own.
Manchester Vice Mayor Ryan French announced this week plans to introduce an ordinance banning the over-the-counter sale of pseudoephedrine in the Manchester City Limits – adding the city to a region-wide effort to eliminate the meth-making product. Winchester and Huntland have already passed similar measures and Cowan has passed the measure through two of three readings. Decherd and Estill Springs have also passed the measure through two of three required reading.
“I’m disappointed that our state legislature hasn’t taken this in a serious way,” said French, adding that such a measure would significantly impact the amount of methamphetamine labs manufactured in the area. It would need to pass through the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen for three readings.
“The passing of [statewide] law in Oregon and Mississippi have shown big improvements in meth labs. Those types of improvements are so significant that it is a no brainer to pass something like that.”
Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant and is prominent in sinus medicine such a Sudafed. It is also a necessary ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamines.
Standing alone a Manchester restriction wouldn’t do much to combat the problem but a region-wide ban could lead to action by the General Assembly. (What do you think? Click here to join the discussion)
“I think that next year the state will [make it prescription only] once we get 20 or 30 municipalities doing it,” said State Representative Judd Matheny, who pledged his support for banning over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine. “One thing that was going to hurt us by banning it before was at the time no other border states were looking at it. Since that time, several of our border states have taken measures and seen great results.”
Mississippi has implemented a ban on over-the-counter sales and Alabama requires a prescription for anyone who lives outside of the state – making a trip across state lines difficult for anyone looking to obtain pseudoephedrine for illegal purposes.
Tullahoma could soon be on board with a similar measure.
“Chief [Paul Blackwell] did share with me last week that there is a regional effort to get this done,” said Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee. “I asked that he and the city administrator do a little research for me. I would say that sometime around the end of this month or July it will be on the study session for consideration.”
Making the pseudoephedrine available by prescription only isn’t popular with everyone, though. Many people use medicines like Sudafed that are quite inexpensive to combat sinus problems.
French said he takes those concerns into consideration.
“Unfortunately, it’s almost collateral damage,” he said. “At the same time, there are issues with self-diagnosing yourself, too. Several abused [medicines] have become prescription only. There are several cases of that throughout history and this is just another one of those.”
Ray Marcrom with Marcrom’s Pharmacy in Manchester said a month supply of Sudafed purchased over the counter is “less than $10.”
“The [Tennessee Pharmacist Association] has been opposed to this because of limitations to people who need it,” Marcrom said. “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 to track who is buying the medicine and in what quantities for law enforcement to use.
“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.”
A legitimate 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.”
Farmer said a push for an over-the-counter ban from multiple cities would be symbolic if nothing else.
“There isn’t a better example to show the will of the people than city-by-city and county-by-county,” Farmer said.
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 and return it.”
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.
–Josh Peterson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org