McMinn sheriff calls for ephedrine ban

McMinn sheriff calls for ephedrine ban

February 24th, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

ATHENS, Tenn. -- As allergy season approaches, one Tennessee sheriff is calling for a 100-day statewide ban on the sale of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine.

"We have to start somewhere," McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said at a news conference Wednesday in Athens. "We want to get the attention of the public; we want the attention of retailers and our state representatives."

With the support of local law enforcement and prosecutors, Guy is asking that retail stores suspend all sales of pseudoephedrine -- the main ingredient in methamphetamine -- or require a prescription for the drug for the next 100 days.

COMING SOON: Check out Sunday's Times Free Press to read about opposing bills that address how to reduce meth production.

Tennessee is second in the nation for meth labs seized, and McMinn County led the state last year with 161 meth labs busted.

The timeframe for the ban is an arbitrary number. Local police say it would give people time to see if medicine without pseudoephedrine could work on their allergy and sinus problems and also whether a prescription-only mandate could lower meth production locally.

Guy was accompanied by officials with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, the 10th Judicial District and several local police departments.

Guy said he was motivated to call for the ban when federal funding to help clean up meth labs was cut this week across the country.

It costs about $2,500 to properly dispose of all the toxic chemicals in a meth lab, said Steve Lawson, the 10th Judicial Drug Task Force director. He estimated the cleanups might cost the four counties in the district -- Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk -- $1 million a year if they have to pay for them.

"Lawmakers need to pay some attention," he said.

Another concern is that smaller, low-budget law enforcement departments might be tempted to save money by ignoring proper procedures to dispose of the chemicals, Lawson said.

An electronic database put in place by the Tennessee Meth Task Force in 2005 now tracks pseudoephedrine sales. But meth makers are finding ways to get around the database, so law enforcement must find new ways to stop the drug, Guy said.

Guy said that even with allergy season on the way, local pharmacies should be concerned about public safety.

Beth Truelove, a pharmacist at Wilson's Drug Inc. in Englewood, said she probably wouldn't stop selling pseudoephedrine products because she already takes proactive measures when selling the medicine.

"[Employees] are all trained that, before they sell it, they have to OK it with the pharmacists," Truelove said. "That's my policy."

The same proactive policy at pharmacies across the state could help eliminate many meth labs, she said.

"We've got to do something," Guy said. "We felt like now is the time for a call to action."

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