Bradley listed as 7th in meth lab seizures
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG, Banner Staff Writer
Mar 01, 2013 | 1818 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sunrise Rotary
TOMMY FARMER, a special agent for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force, spoke about the state’s problems with drugs at the Bradley Sunrise Rotary meeting Thursday. Bradley County ranks seventh in Tennessee for the number of meth labs seized last year.  Banner Photos, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
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Tommy Farmer said keeping drugs like those containing pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters has not helped reduce the number of methamphetamine labs in Tennessee.

Instead, he said, it has actually increased that number.

“We’re facing an epidemic, and the epidemic is addiction,” said Farmer, a special agent for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force.

He explained the problem of drug abuse in Tennessee to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club as he spoke about his work Thursday.

Sixty-one clandestine meth lab seizures were made in Bradley County in 2012, according to information Farmer shared from the task force. That ranks the county as seventh in Tennessee with the most meth labs seized. Nearby Hamilton County ranks second in the state, and McMinn County sixth.

“I see really good people down in that pit of prescription abuse,” local judge Amy Armstrong Reedy said as she introduced Farmer to her fellow Rotarians.

She said the side effects that so often accompany TV commercials for prescription drugs may list things like swelling and loss of sleep, but do not warn about "loss of peace," "desire to commit robbery," "death of brain cells" and other things that can be side effects of addiction.

When he took to the podium, Farmer said the main issue is people increasingly seeking immediate gratification for even the most minor health-related problems. Another has been allowing pharmaceutical companies to gain clout with consumers through aggressive advertising.

“Every 15 minutes there’s going to be a pharmaceutical advertisement,” Farmer said. "When they’re showing the side effects, they’ll always flash by. They’ll show the guy and the girl, and life is good.”

Farmer has a history in law enforcement, spending several years working in Hamilton County before joining the TBI. In 1998, the TBI established a task force in the area to address the problems of meth and prescription drug abuse. It later grew into a statewide initiative as those problems spread.

However, even with all the manpower focused on stopping the drug problem, Farmer said he and his co-workers have had to learn what can and cannot work to lessen its effects.

“One of the many things we did learn is we’re not going to fix it with law enforcement,” Farmer said. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of the problem. It’s a societal problem; it’s our problem.”

Farmer said the task force has put more than 1,200 people in federal custody. He also said meth labs have been costing the United States about $24 billion a year.

He said many people who are convicted of drug related charges reoffend, making the job difficult for law enforcement. A drug addict is an irrational person who will do whatever is necessary to continue their habit, he added.

When it comes to overall numbers, meth and prescription drug abuse has remained very prevalent in Tennessee.

“Tennessee has been on the front line with this,” Farmer said. “For the fifth, sixth year in a row, you're in the top two for the number of meth labs seized in the United States."

One major effort to stop meth labs has involved limiting access to pseudoephedrine, which can be found in many cold medicines. Farmer explained the process of making meth involves changing the molecular structure of an existing drug and that pseudoephedrine is just one atom away from meth, making it a popular choice for anyone illegally producing the drug.

Anyone who wants to buy a pseudoephedrine products has to go to a pharmacy and request it from staff behind the counter, blocking people from being able to buy mass amounts straight from the store shelves. But that hasn’t worked, Farmer said.

Tennessee as a whole saw 1,811 meth lab seizures last year, a number Farmer said keeps rising every year despite efforts to limit access to pseudoephedrine products.

"Once we went blocking, we had 100,000 new buyers of Sudafed last year alone," he said. "Back before we went blocking, we had basically one person buying 20 boxes. Now, we have 40 people buying one box. We’re chasing our tails,” he said of the fact those 40 boxes end up being used to make meth anyway.

Even though it would require changing state laws surrounding the issue Farmer said he is in favor of making pseudoephedrine products prescription-only.

“The last thing I want is another law," Farmer said. "But you've got to look at the public interest. You've got to look at the greater good."

That “greater good” involves lessening the wide-ranging “side effects” of meth and prescription drug abuse, he added.

Since 2007, some 1,625 children have been placed in foster care after being taken from homes with meth labs. Children stay in foster care for an average time of 16 months, and $70 million has been spent on the care of children affected by drug abuse, Farmer said. That is just one effect.

He emphasized the importance of the community doing whatever it can to stop drug abuse because law enforcement “makes things messy,” and said drug rehabilitation programs and the like need to continue to do good work.

"We’re not your front line," Farmer said. "When your systems and your services break down, send them to us."

Rotarians agreed law enforcement officers are not solely responsible for cleaning up the mess of drug abuse but took the opportunity to express appreciation for the efforts.

"What you do is a different kind of service," said Rotarian Andy Anderson. "We're a community service club. You serve people who don't want to be served, but you do that to help [the community]."