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New TN meth law adds protections of children, further restricts ingredient sales

'I Hate Meth Act' signed by Gov. Bill Haslam; pharmacies' meth ingredient sales go into database daily


A new law targeting the production of methamphetamine and striving for better protection of children goes into effect July 1.

Cooking meth in front of a child will be aggravated child endangerment under the I Hate Meth Act signed by Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday in Greeneville, Tenn.

With more than 2,000 meth labs shut down statewide last year and 484 children removed from homes in meth-related incidents, the governor wanted to make an impact.

“The numbers in 2010 were record-breaking,” said the governor’s spokeswoman, YvetteMartinez. “There was concern, and it was time for us to take action.”

The new law won’t allow pharmacies to sell to a person more than 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine per day or more than 9 grams per 30-day period, unless the person has a valid prescription.

Pseudoephedrine is the common component in cold, sinus and allergy pills. It’s also a key ingredient in making meth, a highly addictive stimulant, the illegal drug of choice in the region.

This new law shouldn’t hurt the average consumer, said Maggi McLean Duncan, executive director of Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

“Most consumers don’t buy an entire month’s worth of allergy (pills) in one day,” Duncan said. “And your regular consumer doesn’t use nine grams in one month, trust me.”

However, there is a provision in the measure that states a pharmacist may decline the sale if it isn’t for a legitimate medical purpose.

The measure also has pharmacies linking up with law enforcement starting in January.

Pharmacies have to log information that has to be sent at least every 24 hours to the Tennessee Meth Information System database operated by law enforcement. The pharmacies will use a program at no cost to them.

Currently, pharmacies input the information in their systems, and there’s a six- to eight-week lag time before police get the information. Smaller pharmacies keep a hand-written log of purchases.

Starting in January, pharmacies must have a mechanism to stop a sale if someone goes over the purchasing limit, or if someone is on the meth offender registry.

The law is the latest step in the state’s evolution toward combating the meth problem.

The state took ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which were available over-the-counter, off the shelves to be sold only in pharmacies in 2005. Consumers had to show a photo ID and give their name and address to the pharmacist. That practice continues.

While police chiefs and sheriffs have pushed for making pseudoephedrine prescription-only, their state organizations lauded the new law and will examine the results 12 to 24 months after the law takes effect.

“It’s a great first step,” Duncan said.

Middle Tennessee law enforcement welcomes any measure that slows meth production and meth use. “The legislation is a sensible approach, and I appreciate Gov. Haslam’s support,” Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said.

Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold said the sales tracking system is key, while Franklin Police Officer Eric Johnson, spokesman, said the measure puts law enforcement in a positive direction.

State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, a sponsor of the law, pushed for the legislation to protect children who are exposed to the toxic substances when the drug is made.

The Tennessean
June 7, 2011
Written by Chris Echegaray