State legislators fighting to combat illicit drugs
by Mike Bell
Nov 04, 2012 | 890 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Oct. 21, the Cleveland Daily Banner published a troubling opinion piece by Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth. It’s clear that Sheriff Ruth is passionate about the scourge of methamphetamine, as I know most of us are, including our legislative delegation.

People in our state are known for having spirited but respectful debates over issues that matter most. That’s why I thought it was beyond the pale when Sheriff Ruth argued that my colleagues in the General Assembly and I don’t want to make progress against meth because we differ on which is the right policy approach to the problem. The truth is, it was our desire to do something about this very problem that led lawmakers to work with public safety officials, industry officials, Gov. Bill Haslam and others to pass the “I Hate Meth Law.”

Before reviewing all the facts, like Sheriff Ruth, I too favored the prescription-only approach. It was after much study that I decided that we should try the tracking law to attack the problem first due to the burden a prescription mandate would place on law-abiding citizens and allergy sufferers who depend upon regular access to products containing pseudoephedrine. PSE is a key ingredient in methamphetamine production. A prescription mandate would force these citizens to take time off work and make a doctor’s appointment in order to access these products. That is a costly and significant burden in these tough economic times if there is another alternative that works.

The “I Hate Meth Law” put into place the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) which monitors and blocks illegal purchases of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) at the point of sale. The system works across state lines — giving narcotics agents the ability to track out-of-state criminal activity. In addition, NPLEx works hand-in-hand with the Tennessee Methamphetamine Intelligence System (TMIS).

Reports since the implementation of the system in January show that it blocked the sale of 1,594 grams of PSE in Bradley County, 699.1 grams in McMinn County, 2,754 grams in Meigs County and 19.9 grams in Polk County. Statewide, NPLEx blocked 63,380.5 grams of PSE products.

We must remember that the NPLEx law has been in effect for less than one year. Although it is a positive step that we have blocked these sales, we will continue to monitor the NPLEx information very carefully. If the new law shows signs that it is not working as envisioned, I will be among the first to explore other options, including the prescription mandate.

In addition, I take considerable offense regarding the accusation that our General Assembly is doing nothing to combat illegal drugs. During the last two legislative sessions, we have passed legislation to tighten loopholes in the state’s Meth Registry, a new law to clarify those who shop in multiple counties for meth precursors can be prosecuted in any county where the purchase was made, put in place stronger penalties against those who manufacture meth in the presence of children and adopted a statute to ensure that those who “attempt to purchase” and “attempt to sell” amphetamines for a non-medical use can be prosecuted. The governor has aggressively launched the state’s “Meth Stops Now” campaign and our state budget included $1.5 million in funds for meth lab cleanup over the past two fiscal years, separate from the federal Byrne grants which were allocated for this purpose.

The General Assembly did not stop at addressing Tennessee’s illegal meth problem. We vigorously attacked the sale and manufacture of synthetic drugs and passed a strong law to curb abuse of prescription drugs. These new anti-drug laws, when combined with the “I Hate Meth Law” and other statutes passed over the last two years, has resulted in some of the strongest legislative efforts enacted in decades to curb drug abuse in our state.

Instead of casting aspersions and playing politics with Meth, we must work together to find solutions to this scourge on our communities. The impact of one meth lab costs approximately $350,000 in government and societal costs, not even to mention the tremendous psychological toil it takes on its victims and their families. We must continue to monitor all of these laws and look for a wide range of solutions to the problems we face with Tennessee's deadly meth epidemic.

I invite Sherriff Ruth and others to join us in this effort.