published Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

The war on meth: Cities are on the front lines

Nasal decongestant pills containing 30mg of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride are a key ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, known commonly as meth.
Nasal decongestant pills containing 30mg of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride are a key ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, known commonly as meth.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tennessee municipalities seeking to help law enforcement with its war on methamphetamine are finding themselves running up against a brick wall: their own state and some conservative lawmakers.

Since the first of the year, seven cities in the region have passed ordinances requiring a doctor’s prescription for pseudoephedrine-based cold and allergy medicines — the main ingredient in home-cooked methamphetamine. Six more area cities are in the process of passing such an ordinance, and law enforcement officials are courting 25 across the state.

The medicines currently are available over the counter, and current state law requires buyers of the cold and allergy remedies to show a photo ID and sign a logbook that is submitted to the state. People may not buy more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine per day or more than 9 grams over 30 days.

Law enforcement officials have said for years this strategy is not enough to blunt the meth trade. They say buyers called “smurfers” circumvent those laws by traveling from town to town or even state to state to stay ahead of record-keeping and purchasing limits.

In 2012, about 748,000 of Tennessee’s 6.4 million residents bought a product that contains pseudoephedrine, state records showed. About half the purchases were diverted to make meth, officials said.

So law enforcement has taken its case and pleas for help to cities, asking them to pass ordinances to require prescriptions in their communities. They say the addition of municipal ordinances answers a lack of action from state lawmakers who’ve declined to require the medications to be prescription-only — something drug companies have resisted.

But some conservatives question the validity of city rules that go after retailers and doctors.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, said in an opinion piece published July 2 in The Tennessean that a prescription law is wrongheaded and “places a massive burden on law-abiding citizens.”

In a column in July on the Free Press editorial page, she wrote: “Prescription legislation for pseudoephedrine is not a good policy choice for Tennesseans. At its core, it is a penalty for honest people who depend on affordable medicine to treat their common cold and allergy symptoms.”

Beavers, who faces a re-election year in 2014, has reported that health companies contributed just over a third of the $47,184 in donations in her 2012 war chest, according to

In her Free Press column, she cited a recent Drug Enforcement Administration statement that more than 80 percent of our country’s meth comes from Mexico, so: “Domestic restrictions on pseudoephedrine sales will do nothing to affect this supply. Nor will such laws affect demand.”

Winchester, Tenn., police Chief Dennis Young disagrees, noting there is a second cartel of local cooks and smurfers. He is one of the state’s law enforcement officials pushing for city help.

“This legislation is the only successful evidence-based strategy that has ever been effective and sustainable in the nation. It’s time,” he wrote last week in a letter to the Times editorial page.

Mike Taylor, district attorney in the 12th Judicial District of Bledsoe, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Rhea and Sequatchie counties, also supports local ordinances.

“There’s no question it has a beneficial impact,” he said. “Seizing labs and charging people is reactive, but this is proactive because you curtail their ability to get the ingredients.”

Taylor would take a step further. He says a more effective approach would be restrictions across the country.

Instead, a Tennessee advisory service is indicating cities may not, because of federal law, impose any additional regulations on the drug, and Manchester city officials are waiting for an opinion from the state attorney general’s office.

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inquiringmind said...

What does being a conservative (or not) have to do with the meth problem?

There is no question that meth is a destructive force for the person and family, but this idea of forcing the public to get a prescription for an antihistamine to seek to limit it is like squeezing a balloon. As long as there is demand someone will find a way to get it in to the area, from Mexico or elsewhere. And an alternative drug might appear. Isn't meth the "new moonshine?"

Furthermore, why should a person be forced to pay for a doctor's visit to get an OTC medication, especially in a state that does not support affordable healthcare for the lowest incomes as Obamacare would do?

In addition, cities do not have the Federal authority or scientific where withall to regulate medicine.

Finally, what are the socio-economic forces behind this drug? Does anyone know and has anyone thought it might be a good idea to understand and spend taxpayer money to address that issue? We could get the funds from a tax on legalized marijuana, another drug (sic) the government does not seem able to control by making it illegal.

I'd guess the churches and attacking unemployment might really help.

August 6, 2013 at 7:44 a.m.
jjmez said...

If law enforcement and lawmakers had been more concerned with the seriousness and permanent dangers of meth rather than pumping more money down the pipeline from the federal government to boost their coffers, they'd at least have better control over the problem. Instead they placed all their focus on inner-city crack-cocaine because it was easier, less time consuming and much much cheaper to go after them, although the meth epidemic had already been making the rounds in rural and suburban America (like heroin they tried to downplay and has now exploded in medica) for decades long before crack cocaine showed up in the inner city communities. So now, everyone tripping and stumbling over themselves fighting about what to do about the meth epidemic, 'though meth cookers have been blowing up their homes and everyone in it, even sometimes children, for the last 20+ years. Not to mention the far reaching consequences of other crimes related to meth users. Such as child molestation, murders, suicides, murder-suicides. Meth contaminates everything, even the children in the homes where it's cooked. As for the users, the psychological damage is permanent from the first time they use meth. There is no cure for meth addiction, no matter how mild the addiction. The psychological damage is permanent. Medications prescribed can only downplay the craving for the drug, but then sometimes those prescription drugs end up being abused too.

People with colds rarely go to a doctor in the first place. They're not going to pay the price of an office visit and then have to also pay for the prescription. By making certain cold meds prescription only you'll just create an even larger black market for the meds even for innocent people who just want to control their cold enough to be able to go to work or about their daily activities. There are people who still rather treat themselves at home rather than be forced to go to a doctor every time they sneeze or cough.

August 6, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Life in jail for "cookers". First offense. No local slaps on the wrist. Think many will risk that? Will it cost to put them away, yes, but how much does each lab end up costing down the line when the product is used. Millions?

August 6, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.
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