Capitol Hill Review: Legislature addressed many drug-related laws
by Eric Watson
Sep 09, 2012 | 295 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the next few weeks, I will be sending out updates concerning new laws and changes concerning meth, synthetic drugs and prescription drug abuse.

My first list, and a brief summary about each, can be found below.

1. Prescription Drug Abuse/Hospital Employees: Lawmakers approved a House bill to authorize the Controlled Substance Database Committee to provide a hospital an employee’s prescribing information. Under current law, a hospital’s Quality Improvement Committee exists to evaluate the safety and quality of care provided to patients as well as qualifications and competency of healthcare providers in a confidential and privileged environment. The bill would give hospitals more information about any potential for prescription abuse by their own employees.

2. Meth: Two bills aiming to curb the use of methamphetamines were approved by the General Assembly this year. One bill deals with the purchase of amphetamines for the purpose of making meth. House Bill 2373 makes it a misdemeanor to “attempt to purchase” and “attempt to sell” amphetamines for a non-medical use or unlawful purpose, including the manufacture of meth, leaving a felony as the punishment for completing the act. The second measure adds numerous opiates, depressants, stimulants and narcotics to Schedule I through V of the Controlled Substances Schedule. House Bill 2368 also adds Tramadol and Carisoprodol to Schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Schedule. A controlled (scheduled) drug is one whose use and distribution is tightly controlled because of the potential for abuse.

3. Meth Registry: In similar action, the General Assembly passed legislation to tighten a loophole in the state’s Meth Registry. House Bill 2333 adds those convicted of promoting the manufacture of methamphetamine and those who initiated a process intended to result in the manufacture of meth to the state’s Registry. In addition, the legislation requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to collect a driver’s license number or another identification number from those listed on the registry so innocent citizens with similar names and birthdates do not run into a roadblock when they purchase pseudoephedrine.

4. Statewide Anti-Meth Campaign: In other action on Tennessee’s war on illegal drugs this year, Gov. Bill Haslam rolled out a comprehensive “Meth Stops Now” campaign designed to inform Tennesseans about consequences of violating the “I Hate Meth Act,” which took effect on July 1, 2011. The campaign specifically addresses the portion of the anti-meth law that increases the penalties for making or using meth in the presence of children and for purchasing pseudoephedrine products for non-medical uses.

5. Meth/Budget: The governor also placed $750,000 in his budget amendment for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to assist local governments with training and equipment costs related to meth clean-up. This funding was originally appropriated for the current fiscal year, but required matching funds from local governments of 25 percent. The measure eliminates the matching requirement.

6. Synthetic Drugs: Major legislation attacking the growing problem of synthetic or “designer” drug abuse passed through the Tennessee Legislature this year. The products are often sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food,” but are comprised of a class of chemicals perceived as mimics of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine. The effects include impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia and violent episodes. Experts say the long-term physical and psychological effects of the drugs are unknown but warn they could be severe.

The General Assembly has passed laws previously to ban the chemical compound used in synthetic drugs; however, unscrupulous chemists manufacturing the drugs continue to modify molecules in the organic compound to avoid prosecution. By the time a new synthetic drug is discovered and banned, another altered form of the compound has taken its place.

Synthetic drug products, which have become increasingly popular among teens and young adults, are sold at a variety of retail outlets like convenience stores, smoke shops and over the Internet. They commonly feature cartoon characters on package labels. Some law enforcement authorities have said that due to the huge increase, the dangerous substance has the potential to eclipse methamphetamine as the most dangerous drug in Tennessee. Poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement officers in Tennessee report a sharp increase in the number of persons who have suffered harmful effects from using various synthetic drug products.

Senate Bill 3018 attacks synthetic drug abuse by defining it to capture any analogues which are chemical compounds having a similar structure to the banned drug. This legislation creates a new Class D felony offense for a person to knowingly manufacture, deliver, dispense or sell a controlled substance analogue. The proposal elevates penalties upon a second or subsequent violation to a Class C felony. If the violation involves the delivery, dispensing or sale of a controlled substance analogue to a minor, the offender will be punished one classification higher than the punishment for delivering, dispensing or selling to an adult. The bill also creates a new Class A misdemeanor offense for a person knowingly possessing or casually exchanging under a gram of a controlled substance analogue.

A second bill, House Bill 2286, makes it a Class E felony to possess, use or sell synthetic substances intended to imitate controlled substances. The bill is modeled after laws currently in place in Florida and Virginia.

Another bill was approved this year which adds chemical compounds considered to be derivatives of methcathinone to the Class A misdemeanor offense of production, manufacture, distribution, possession or sale of synthetic derivatives or analogues of methcathinone. This drug is a Schedule I psychoactive stimulant which is highly addictive and illegal in the United States for clinical use. The legislation removes the intent requirement from the offense of possession of synthetic derivatives or analogues of methcathinone.