The Senate and House Judiciary Committees approved legislation this week to attack a source of illegal drug activity in Tennessee. The bill, Senate Bill 3027 by Senator Steve Southerland and Representative David Hawk, would stiffen penalties against those who get prescriptions in another state and return to distribute the drugs illegally in Tennessee.
Action on the bill follows a 96.6 percent increase in drug-related deaths, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Some Tennessee law enforcement officers attribute the increase to the misuse of prescription drugs by those who obtain them legally from out-of-state “pill mills.”
“States across the South have seen an increase in crime stemming from the rise of pain clinics in Florida, where the laws are much looser than other states,” said Senator Southerland. “These are often referred to as pill mills. We have experienced major drug busts in several of my counties involving drugs obtained at these pill mills and sold illegally in Tennessee.”
The most common drugs found are OxyContin, Darvon, and Vicodin, but drug busts in Tennessee also have included Xanax and Roxicodones. The legislation would increase the penalties for the illegal trafficking of out-of-state drugs from a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a 30-day jail term and up to $50 in fines, to a Class D felony with a 2 to 12 years in prison sentence and up to $5,000 in fines.
“There have been vans of people involved in traveling to Florida pain clinics to pick up these prescriptions, which are intended for illegal resale,” said Rep. Hawk. “The fine is presently so low that it is not a deterrent. Narcotics agents tell us that a person can receive up to 120 OxyContins on a trip and return to sell them for as much as $80 per pill on the street. This is becoming a big problem in Tennessee as drug dealers are very proficient in knowing where to go to get prescriptions that are not tracked, and that includes out-of-state clinics.”
The lawmakers filed the bill after law enforcement officials in their East Tennessee counties brought the matter to their attention. Tennessee law requires all entities that dispense medications to file information on controlled substance on a state database to monitor abuse. That law has helped curb prescription drug abuse by providing information to those prescribing and dispensing the drugs to alert them of potential abusers.
Although 40 states have laws establishing drug monitoring programs, Florida is among those which do not have a program. That state now has one of the highest concentrations of pain clinics in the U.S., including those housed in shopping centers. This has caused other states to pass laws cracking down on offenders who traffic these drugs within their boundaries.
"This legislation is a very good start in addressing illegal drug activity due to the purchase of out-of-state drugs," added Senator Southerland. “Hopefully, this legislation will be approved so that we can curb this abuse.”