Members of Bradley County's legislative delegation aren't taking kindly to Sheriff Jim Ruth's recent scolding that they're not serious about fighting Tennessee's methamphetamine problem.
In a March 3 column on the Bradley County Sheriff's Office website, Ruth called the state's system of tracking sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth, "a failure."
He supports legislation that would require a doctor's prescription for any such medicine, including Sudafed, Claritin-D and other cold remedies now sold over the counter.
That has helped other states combat meth sales, Ruth said in the column, while Tennessee spends $1 billion a year on the battle.
"Yet the people of Tennessee are losing the battle to the meth drug cartel," Ruth wrote. "The politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and meth dealers that are blocking a new, effective law have made for some strange bedfellows.
"... It all shakes out to m-o-n-e-y and profits. It is apparent that the special interest lobbyists in Nashville have more clout than the state's sheriffs, other experienced law officers in Tennessee or the voters," Ruth wrote.
The county's state lawmakers - Sens. Mike Bell and Todd Gardenhire and Reps. Eric Watson and Kevin Brooks - fired back in a joint news release.
They said making people spend time and money to see a doctor for cold medicine is a harsh burden on law-abiding residents and no deterrent to the meth cooks.
"Family budgets are tight, and even those with good health insurance still must pay part of the cost" of a doctor visit, Bell said in the statement. He urged giving the state's tracking system, in place since 2011, more time to work.
The system requires buyers to sign for the drug and provide photo identification. Law officers then can check the registries to see if anyone is buying suspiciously high amounts of the drug.
The statement noted that a number of groups, from AARP to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, oppose making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only medicine.
The AARP said in a separate news release that more than 18 million U.S. households depend on over-the-counter medicines with pseudoephedrine for colds and allergies.
"Rather than burdening responsible citizens, lawmakers should focus on solutions that target criminals," Tennessee state director Rebecca Kelly said in the release.
Brooks and Watson said in the lawmakers' statement that much of the meth in America these days is smuggled into the country.
"We have great laws on the books; however, our law enforcement politicians need to quit working deals out with criminals and start enforcing the letter of the law," said Watson, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee.
Gardenhire said he'd spoken with a number of Erlanger hospital physicians who said dispensing pseudoephedrine by prescription won't solve the problem.
"OxyContin is a prescription-based drug and is given out extensively by the pill mills. Having a prescription for OxyContin has not stopped its abuse," he said.
Gardenhire also touched on the unspoken context for the war of words: It's an open secret that Watson is considering running against Ruth in the Republican primary next year.
"These issues should stay out of local politics when an election is coming up," Gardenhire said.