Last Thursday Governor Bill Haslam proposed legislation that some feel is a half step towards dealing with Tennessee’s meth problem.
The proposed legislation would require a prescription for more than a 20-day supply of cold medicines used in the production meth.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the intent of the legislation is “to limit access to pseudoephedrine or ephedrine products to those who are using it illegally while not overburdening law-abiding Tennesseans who need temporary cold and sinus relief.”
Haslam’s plan would allow over-the-counter purchases of medicine like Sudafed for up to 10-days-worth of pills each month. Another 10-day supply would be available with a prescription written on the spot by a pharmacist and more would require a physician’s signature.
Under the governor’s plan cold-medicine containing ingredients used in the production of meth would become a little tougher to come by, but his proposal falls short of what law enforcement agencies really want.
Local and state law enforcement agencies say that they appreciate the governor tackling the issue head on, but feel it is a half step that may not go far enough.
Winchester Chief of Police Dennis Young says other states have more restrictive policies than the one Governor Haslam has proposed and those states are still dealing with meth issues.
According to Chief Young, Kentucky and West Virginia place an annual limit and though Governor Haslam’s plan has a lower monthly allowance there is no annual cap.
Kentucky has an annual cap of 24 grams compared to 57.6 grams on the governor’s proposal. This is down from the previous 108 grams annually, but still allows 48 boxes of 12 hour Sudafed annually to be purchased without a prescription.
“Governor Haslam’s proposal is not as restrictive as Kentucky and West Virginia and both are still struggling with meth labs with the number of labs growing every year,” he said. “As I sincerely appreciate the Governor addressing the issue, I don’t feel his bill would achieve the desired results we all want.”
Chief Young says Governor Haslam’s bill calling for a reduction of the amount that can be purchased will only create more smurfing. He said most “smurfers” only buy a few boxes of product a month and would not be affected by the governor’s proposal.
“The majority of smurfers buy only one or two boxes a month to stay under the radar, they accomplish their goals by having many different smurfers buying smaller amounts to go undetected,” he said. “If they want more pseudoephedrine all they have to do is get more smurfers, an easy accomplishment at a black market price of $50 to $100 a box.”
Chief Young says that outside of those suffering from severe allergies, the average citizen only buys the product once or twice a year, not every month.
“Products containing pseudoephedrine only make up 10 percent of the OTC cold and allergy medicines available,” he said. “We are trying to regulate only those few products that contain the primary precursor necessary for the manufacture of methamphetamine, for example, Sudafed PE is not on the list of pseudoephedrine products under discussion.
“It is an effective decongest marketed under the Sudafed label as a safe alternative.”
Law enforcement officials have been pushing for drugs containing pseudoephedrine to be made available by prescription only for several years and their initiative has been steadily gaining ground among lawmakers and the general population.
Chief Young said, “Senator Haile and Representative Powers filed a prescription bill the same day the Governor proposed his bill, 14 Senators sponsored his bill counting himself, this after Senator Overby of Maryville and his constituents filed a prescription bill on Monday.”
The governor’s proposal comes just weeks after a Vanderbilt University poll showed that two in three Tennesseans would support requiring a prescription to buy medicines used in the production of meth.
Chief Young says that Tennesseans are ready to take steps to stop the meth epidemic that has plagued the state for years, and the legislation has a great chance of passing.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association dispute Vanderbilt’s poll results. The pharmaceutical industry group said it opposes restrictions on the sale of cold and allergy medications.
In a recent press release the group’s president, Scott Melville, said, “For too many Tennessee families, the proposal is tantamount to a prescription mandate and imposes unnecessary burdens on law-abiding citizens’ time and pocketbooks.”
Despite stiff opposition from pharmaceutical groups, many believe that requiring a prescription is the best way to fight the growing production of meth in Tennessee.
Several Tennessee municipalities including cities in Franklin, Coffee, Weakley, Hamilton, Rutherford and Meigs recently signed resolutions requesting that the State require a prescription for the sale of cold and allergy products containing ingredients used in the production of meth.
Chief Young said, “We have seen locally what kind of impact prescription legislation has produced and the state of Mississippi has reduced Meth production over 90 percent statewide with prescription legislation.”
Young says his office is in communication with the legislature and Governor’s office and will continue a line of communication.
Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller says he is in complete agreement with Chief Young on the issue.
“I appreciate Governor Haslam recognizing the problem, but what needs to be done is to make the products prescription only,” Fuller said. “This has been our number one legislative objective for the last three years.”
Fuller says that Sheriffs and Police Chiefs across the state have been dealing with the issue since 1994 and have been seeking this legislation for several years.
“Its frustrating that we, as law enforcement officials, who are in the trenches have been saying we need this legislation, but it has largely fallen on deaf ears,” he said. “Until the city’s starting passing ordinances requiring a prescription in their respective cities and a Vanderbilt poll showed public support our pleas had gone unheard.”
Fuller said the past three years legislation to make products containing pseudoephedrine prescription only have not even made it out of subcommittee, but he hopes this year will be different.
“There are several bills that have been introduced this term seeking to make these products prescription only and the initiative has been steadily gaining support,” he said.
Lawmakers are expected to tackle the issue in this session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
The public is encouraged to visit the Tennessee General Assembly website at capitol. tn.gov to stay informed. Proceedings can be watched in real time or later in the archives. They are also encouraged to let their representatives know where they stand on the issues at hand.