COMBATING METH IN TENNESSEE
19: Number of Tennessee cities (including Spring City) with pseudoephederine restrictions on the books
1,265: Number of meth labs busted in Tennessee this year through August
7, 8: Number of meth labs busted in Mississippi and Oregon, respectively, through August. Both states have pseudoephedrine restrictions in place that require a prescription for purchase.
Second: Tennessee's place among all 50 states for 2012 clandestine meth lab incidents, with 1,585. Missouri was first with 1,825
Source: Winchester, Tenn., police department; www.justice.gov
SPRING CITY, Tenn. - Another domino down in the fight against East Tennessee meth manufacturing.
Spring City commissioners voted unanimously last week to require a doctor's prescription for medicines including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- key ingredients in products such as Sudafed, Tylenol Cold Severe Congestion, Mucinex-D and others, but also in illegal methamphetamine.
Spring City leaders and business owners said they saw sales of those medicines double -- at least -- after other area cities passed restrictions on the medicines.
"I think that started our problem," said Gena Hassler, owner of Hassler's Drugs Inc. in Spring City.
Decatur, the Meigs County seat, passed ephedrine and pseudoephedrine restrictions in July.
City Manager Stephania Motes said Hassler's and Spring City Pharmacy -- the town's only pharmacies -- have seen a significant jump in pseudoephedrine sales since then.
And there aren't that many people with colds running around.
Hassler knows many of her pharmacy's pseudoephedrine-seeking customers are looking for ingredients to make meth, and she can spot them at the door.
Even the ones who come from across the river in Decatur.
Motes said that's part of the reason town officials adopted the policy.
"The problem with us started with people who were buying in Decatur coming to our town to buy pseudoephedrine," Motes said.
Spring City leaders sat down with Decatur and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials to weigh the pros and cons of writing a prohibition into the city's books.
Motes said a few factors affected the commissioners' unanimous vote in favor of the limits.
"We know the other cities around us are looking at the same thing," she said. "If we didn't look into this, we were looking at the potential for a bigger influx of people wanting to buy pseudoephedrine to make meth."
Also, the town hopes restricting Spring City sales will cut down on meth manufacturing in general, if not inside its own city limits.
"If [meth makers] come into our city limits and buy products to make meth, we've played a part in that," Motes said.
Pharmacists can refuse to sell pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products to questionable customers now, and there is a limit on how much one customer can buy.
But asking pharmacists to refuse customers "puts a lot of pressure on them," Motes said. "And they're not the policemen."
Hassler said it is tough, and sometimes intimidating, to turn down a potential meth user at the counter.
"Some of these people are crazy," she said. "This would make it easier for us to refuse to sell it. At least now we can say 'We can't.'"
Still, Hassler isn't totally sold on the commission's decision. She knows her business is going to "lose probably all" of its Sudafed sales.
And there are folks who can't afford to see a doctor just to get a prescription for something like Sudafed, which in Hassler's opinion "is the only medicine people can buy that works."
She called it a no-win scenario.
"I hate that people who need it are going to be saddled by this," she said. "We're regulated to death now, but I guess it's a sign of the times."
The new ordinance still requires a second reading and commission vote to become law, probably in December.
Maybe it's not the best solution, Hassler said. But it's something.
"We have a major problem here," she said. "Just like everybody else."
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6731.