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Introduction of two new bills to further restrict purchase of meth ingredients

In the continuing battle to fight the ever-increasing production of methamphetamine, two bills have been introduced in the state of Tennessee. Both deal with further restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), an ingredient that can be used to illegally manufacture meth.
The first bill (HB 181) calls for such medications to be dispensed only with a prescription from a medical doctor. The second would implement the use of a statewide, industry-funded electronic tracking system, called NPLEx (the National Precursor Log Exchange). The system would monitor the sale of PSE in real time, making pharmacies aware of repetitive purchases at different locations.
Proponents of the prescription-only bill include the head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Mark Gwyn. He says the devastating impact of meth on society in general far outweighs the inconvenience such a move would place on the public.
“I know it may be a little bit more inconvenient to get a prescription, but you've got to weigh that against the people that are dying in this state,” Gwyn said. “What we're looking at is a cold medicine — we're not looking at a medicine that treats heart disease or diabetes or anything like that.
“Vanderbilt says one-third of their burn unit is meth victims. That's tens of thousands of dollars a day to treat these people,” he said. “The kids that are being taken from homes, the contamination issue — when you look at all of that, I think it's pretty simple to know what we need to do.”
However, many do not see the necessity of a prescription as the best solution. They cite not only inconvenience but an added financial burden to consumers who must pay a physician’s fee in addition to the cost of many cold and allergy medications. Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mount Juliet) and Representative Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) introduced legislation [SB 325/HB 234] for the implementation of the NPLEx tracking system.
“For all law-abiding Tennesseans, the experience of buying cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine at the local pharmacy will not change,” said Rep. Maggart, the bill’s sponsor in the House of Representatives. “However, for those looking to purchase more than their legal limit, this system will immediately deny the sale, and law enforcement will possess a powerful tool to track down these individuals when they attempt to do so.”
Sen. Beavers echoes those same thoughts. “This kind of government intrusion in our lives is not the solution we need to attack the meth problem in Tennessee,” said Sen. Beavers, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. “We should not punish the tens of thousands of innocent Tennesseans who need this over-the-counter medication to get at the criminals who are using the drug illegally to produce meth when there is another approach which is very effective. Our legislation offers a proven, effective, non-governmental solution to the problem, without pushing up the cost of the medication on consumers by requiring them to visit a physician to obtain a prescription.”
Since tracking laws were enacted beginning in 2006, the number of meth busts nationwide has started climbing again, which supporters say has been caused by the tracking system making it easier for police to find people who participate in meth production. In the four states that have fully implemented e-tracking technology, nearly 40,000 grams of illegal PSE sales per month are blocked. The system, which provides local law enforcement officials with precise data on who is attempting to buy illegal amounts of PSE, also helps law enforcement find meth labs.
SB 325/HB 234 is supported by the Tennessee Pharmacists Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Opponents to NPLEx feel the plan is ineffective in curbing the meth trade, and according to Associated Press investigations, have instead driven it underground and created a black market.
According to preliminary statistics from the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force, arrests were made in 1,969 suspected meth labs across the state in 2010. Last year’s numbers jumped 48.9 percent from 2009 and reached an all-time high for Tennessee. Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece says local numbers also rose sharply. In 2009 there were nine methamphetamine related arrests made in the county, compared to 17 in 2010 – almost double.
State Representative Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) mentions another complication to the illegal purchases. There are reports of some Tennessee residents that are covered by the state’s Tenncare program obtaining excessive amounts of the drug with Tenncare footing the bill.
“I am told that the real problem is Tenncare recipients getting between 200 and 300 pseudonephrine pills prescribed to them and supplied every single month,” says Campbell. “Can you use 300 of those pills a month? I couldn't and wouldn't, but some people are according to one pharmacist I spoke with.”
Campbell goes on to say that he is very concerned about the entire issue and is “seeking input from the public about how to best put an end to meth use. Let me know your thoughts.” He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 615-741-2050.