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TIMES EDITORIAL: Local ban may not tame the meth beast

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Recent efforts to curb methamphetamine production here by confining medicines containing pseudoephedrine — such as Sudafed — to a prescription-only standard are worth applauding.

But we aren’t sure it’s the best path forward.

While we understand the intentions of local leaders who support this legislation are noble, jumping into action without proper consideration and thought to all consequences and avenues would be irresponsible. Tabling the motion to move forward with this ordinance last week was the right thing to do.

Restricting the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine seems like a job for the state and/or federal government. Not a local municipality. Granted the fact that the state has yet to enact such a ban is frustrating for some, it isn’t a license to act out of turn and end up with the city in a court battle with a drug company. While calling for medicines containing meth precursors to be located behind the counter, Tennessee’s “I Hate Meth Act” subsection n, says: “This section shall supersede any local laws or ordinances currently regulating sales of products containing any immediate methamphetamine precursor.”

In layman’s terms, the city doesn’t appear to have the regulatory authority to start telling pharmacists and doctors what they can and cannot do outside of issuing a business license.

Arguments have been made on all sides of this issue and all with great cause. Meth manufacturing and consumption have cast a shadow across our state and much of the southeast. We agree that the state needs to revisit this issue and, at the least, push for revamping the NPLEx system to plug some of the gaping holes that allow excess purchases of Sudafed. It wouldn’t be out of bounds for the state to go a step further and ban over-the-counter sales of these medicines statewide. But that’s for the state to decide.

But a restriction of that magnitude isn’t a guaranteed fix, especially if it’s only done at a local level. A local ban, aside from potentially costing Manchester taxpayer’s money in a lawsuit, would demonstrate a local government admitting it doesn’t mind inconveniencing law-abiding citizens to try and punish the law-breakers. Perhaps instituting a dry-city ordinance could come next to prevent DUI accidents.

Let’s look at hydrocodone, a well-known pain medicine that is only available by prescription but has been at the center of widespread abuse. A recent national survey on drug use and health by the American Association of Poison Control Centers found that more than 23 million people over the age of 12 abused or misused hydrocodone.

Using that theory, one could make the argument for laws at all. Why set a speed limit if all people are going to do is break it? We understand the need for laws and regulations, but this seems like an issue for the state to battle, with the input of local governments and law enforcement officials, of course.

At the local level, perhaps it would be wise to appropriate more funds to the police department for a localized meth task force and give the department the tools needed to focus on the problem while freeing up other investigators to focus their time and energy on theft and other crime. After all, dealing with meth — from cooking to cleaning — requires a special skill set altogether.

Prosecutors pushing for maximum penalties for those caught buying and selling pseudoephedrine to known meth makers would do wonders to complement the NPLEx system (currently, such a crime is a Class A misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of 11 months, 29 days in jail and a $2,500 fine. The NPLEx system is the state’s tracking system of pseudoephedrine sales that 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.).

We understand something has to be done. Punishing the law-abiding citizens and forcing a $5 purchase of Sudafed for sinus problems to become a $25 co-pay to the doctor isn’t the answer. As long as other cities around don’t pass similar legislation — Tullahoma, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville — it will only be viewed as an inconvenience of living in our fine city.

If the answer were easy, meth would not be the monster it is today. But a local ban doesn’t seem like it will tame the beast.