Some state representatives on the Criminal Justice Committee expressed disgust Thursday concerning comments made by Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth in a newspaper column in which he stated Tennessee Code should be changed to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine.
Ruth stated in a recent column published in the Cleveland Daily Banner, “The politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and meth dealers blocking a new, effective law have made for some strange bedfellows.”
State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, challenged any law enforcement officer in Tennessee to go to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney General and file charges against any member of the Legislature who accepts money in exchange for legislation.
“Short of that, put up or shut up,” Shipley said.
Shipley serves on the committee chaired by former Bradley County deputy Eric Watson. Watson resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in October 2011 and is a possible candidate for sheriff in the next election.
Ruth said in a lengthy statement, “Tennessee is still No. 2 in the country for meth labs and meth problems. My stance as sheriff is for public safety and to fight against our No. 1 crime problem in Bradley County, which is the meth problem.”
He said all legislators around the state know sheriffs and other law enforcement officers have wanted a methamphetamine bill passed making pseudoephedrine products prescription only.
“The fact is,” the sheriff said, “the National Precursor Log Exchange database system is not working. And they should also know that it has not worked in states where it had already been implemented. The families and victims of the meth problem have not had a serious advocate so far. Someone needs to speak for them and that’s why I’m taking a strong stance.”
He said another concern is federal funding for the dangerous task of meth lab cleanups is expected to dry up within the year.
“That means that Bradley County will have to pay the bill for meth cleanup which will add up to tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “If Bradley County experiences the same number of meth labs in the future as they did in 2012, the expense for the county could be approaching $200,000 of taxpayer money.”
He said data shows that in 2011, 3.6 million grams of pseudoephedrine was sold to 649,000 Tennessee buyers. Both numbers climbed in 2012 when 748,000 Tennesseans purchased 3.77 million grams of pseudoephedrine.
Also for 2012, he continued, there were thousands of fraudulent driver’s licenses used to purchase pseudoephedrine products in Tennessee. The number of “smurfs” (people who buy the precursors for meth for meth dealers) has increased greatly and the system again is not working. Before the database system was put into place it was estimated that one smurf used to buy 20 packages of the precursors for meth, now it is estimated that 40 smurfs are buying one package of the precursor for meth every time they can.
“As I have stated before, in states where pseudoephedrine products are prescription-only, the meth problem has decreased 70-80 percent,” he said. “The excuses some legislators give for not passing a meth bill [are] very weak.
“First of all, it would not be a great inconvenience for people to visit a doctor once or twice a year to get a prescription for pseudoephedrine products. Everyone knows that doctors frequently extend a prescription several times throughout the allergy season, and there are other options besides pseudoephedrine products.”
Some legislators make statements that the meth bill would not stop meth problems in this country — they are referring to the Mexican meth coming into this country known as “ICE,” Ruth explained. A meth bill to control meth manufacture in the U.S. would not stop foreign meth from coming into the country, but it could at least slow it down.
“It would do something about our local problem of homegrown meth and it would greatly slow down the bulk quantities of pseudoephedrine products being shipped illegally to Mexico,” he said. “Once pseudoephedrine is controlled, we could concentrate greater efforts on ICE as we do cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs.”
He said the fact is, law enforcement efforts alone cannot fix the meth epidemic because it is a societal problem. In 2012 there was a 14 percent increase with more than 1,800 meth labs dealt with in Tennessee and over 100,000 new buyers for the precursors to make meth in 2012 in Tennessee. In the first three months of this year, more than 500 labs have been seized.
“At this rate, we will set a record for the number of labs seized in Tennessee,” he said. “As sheriff, I am responsible for the public’s safety. That means the safety of children, older people and everyone in between who is affected by the meth problem. That is my stance. I predicted I would come up against strong resistance, and I have.
“As sheriff, I do not understand delaying action on the meth bill when it is seen by most law enforcement people around the state as the No. 1 problem — as shown by a survey taken at the Governor’s Public Safety Forum in Nashville last December.”
Ruth said the studies and facts he referenced are verifiable by both the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office at http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/ and Government Accountability Office at http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/652109.txt.