State Comptroller Releases Report On Methamphetamine Production In Tennessee

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Methamphetamine production continues in small laboratories in Tennessee and elsewhere around the country in spite of new laws regulating and tracking the sale of pharmacy products used to manufacture the illegal drug.

That is one of the findings of a report released Thursday by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability about attempts to control access to legal products sold at pharmacies which are later used to create methamphetamine. Pseudoephedrine, the most common of the so-called “precursor” products used in manufacturing the drug, is an ingredient in many over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies. The report cautions that the relatively short history of precursor control policies and the limitations of available crime and drug use data make it difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of particular precursor control laws on the production of methamphetamine in small labs.

In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation to implement a real-time, electronic tracking system – the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) – to limit the quantities of precursor products that can be purchased by individuals. After much debate, NPLEx was chosen over a more restrictive requirement that people obtain prescriptions from doctors for the pharmacy precursors. The 2011 legislation included a directive for the Comptroller’s office to conduct a study and issue a report.

According to the report, called “Methamphetamine Production in Tennessee,” activity in small labs is prevalent in Tennessee and some other southern and mid-western states despite the implementation of pharmacy precursor sales limitations and enhanced electronic tracking systems. Law enforcement officials in Tennessee and nationally attribute the increase in methamphetamine lab incidents to the ability of producers to work around precursor control policies.

Three areas that have implemented prescription-only policies for methamphetamine precursors – Oregon, Mississippi and some parts of Missouri – have seen decreases in methamphetamine lab incidents. However, two studies of the 2006 Oregon policy question the extent to which other factors may have contributed to the decline since other western states also had similar declines.

Mississippi and parts of Missouri, which were both high methamphetamine production areas in 2009 like Tennessee, saw a reduction in methamphetamine lab incidents in 2010. Law enforcement officials attribute the decline to the change to a prescription-only policy. Other nearby states without prescription-only policies did not see declines in 2010.

The report outlines several factors and options for policy makers to consider in evaluating whether to make a precursor control policy change. Issues include:

  • The extent to which pharmacy precursors are used for methamphetamine production

Estimates vary from three to five percent by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents pharmaceutical companies, to somewhere between 30 percent and 70 percent by the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force.

  • The number of legitimate users of pharmacy precursors and the availability of non-precursor alternatives

Approximately 10 percent of adult Tennesseans purchased pharmacy precursors to methamphetamine from January through June 2012.

  • The potential cost and access concerns to consumers of a prescription requirement

Assumptions that drive cost and access estimates of a prescription-only policy include whether consumers will switch to other over-the-counter medicines, whether additional doctor visits will be needed to obtain prescriptions for pseudoephedrine and the need for medical oversight for long-term use of pseudoephedrine.

  • The adequacy of Tennessee’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database to track and control prescription-only methamphetamine precursor sales
  • Funding alternatives for methamphetamine enforcement when current federal funding is depleted in 2013.

The report emphasizes that precursor control policies focus on preventing or reducing local methamphetamine production, not methamphetamine use. A decrease in the supply of locally-produced methamphetamine may not necessarily result in a reduction in methamphetamine use.

Most of the methamphetamine available in many parts of the United States is supplied by Mexican criminal organizations and is produced in foreign and domestic super labs.

OREA is an agency within the Comptroller’s Office that is charged with providing accurate and objective policy research and analysis for the Tennessee General Assembly and the public.

To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/.

State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) responded to the report issued by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury on methamphetamine production in Tennessee. 
 
Senator Beavers was the original Senate sponsor of anti-meth legislation that implemented NPLEx in Tennessee in addition to a drug-offender registry and strict penalties for meth-related crime. The system, which allows retailers to block unlawful attempted purchases of certain cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), has been fully operational in Tennessee since January 2012. In a little over one year since implementation, the technology has led to tens of thousands of blocked sales and numerous convictions and arrests.
 
“I’m pleased with the progress made in NPLEx’s first year implemented in Tennessee. This system provides law enforcement with an invaluable intelligence-gathering tool, helping officers make more meth busts and arrests,” said Senator Beavers. “Reports that more meth labs are being found in our state provides proof that NPLEx is doing exactly what it is designed to do.”
 
As the comptroller’s report accurately notes, NPLEx is leading law enforcement officials to uncover a greater number of meth labs. Before the system was in place, police officers were blind to suspicious PSE purchasing activity. If they wanted to track purchases, officers would literally have to sift through handwritten logbooks and drive from store to store. Now, the purchasing database is completely electronic and updates in real time. Officers can receive alerts on their mobile phones and put suspects on a watch list that sends out alerts when a suspect attempts to make a purchase.
 
“As my colleagues in the Tennessee House and Senate debate anti-meth legislation during the 2013 session, I urge them to continue to let this new law work.   I have no doubt that we will continue making progress against the scourge of meth production and abuse utilizing the NPLEx system,” he said.
 


Warrants Taken For Girl, 16, After Woman Stabbed Twice During Altercation On Woodside Street

Warrants have been taken for the arrest of a 16-year-old girl after Heidi Swafford, 19, was stabbed twice in an altercation outside a house on Woodside Street on Tuesday afternoon. Warrants were issued against the juvenile for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault. The Chattanooga Police Department was notified by a local hospital that a female had arrived ... (click for more)

TDOT Road Worker Killed While Flagging Traffic

A Tennessee Department of Transportation worker was fatally injured Wednesday along State Route 54 near US 412 in Crockett County. James “Pee Wee” Hopkins, an operations technician, was flagging traffic around a maintenance crew when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle. No other TDOT workers were injured. The crash is under investigation. Mr. Hopkins, 63, had been with ... (click for more)

Judge Steelman Was Unfairly Criticized In Handling Of School Bus Driver Rape Case - And Response

We are blessed to have freedom of speech in our society, but I am always amazed at the number of folks who voice such strong antagonistic opinions about things without any apparent first-hand knowledge.   As any who wish to criticize the system should know, people get arrested and charged for criminal offenses every day.  The ultimate charge and penalty which results ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Our Horses Vs. DesJarlais

It is well-known that shortly after the despicable “Big Lick” faction of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry put on a very-pointed fundraiser for the equally repugnant Congressman Scott DesJarlais (R-Jasper) two years ago, the misguided doctor has repeatedly tried to bully and strong-arm the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the behalf of the vermin who sadistically torture the ... (click for more)

Williams Hired To Lead Restart Of Owls Boys' Basketball

Jay Williams has been hired as Ooltewah’s head boys’ basketball coach, a program rocked by a rape scandal last December that eventually led Hamilton County School officials to disband the varsity team and cancel more than half its schedule. Williams, who has strong ties to Ooltewah High School, previously coached at LaFayette School and Northwest Whitfield high schools in Northwest ... (click for more)

TSSAA Sets Future Division I, Division II Classifications

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Board of Control has released the minutes from Wednesday’s meeting in Hermitage pertaining to football classification period for the 2017-18 and run through 2020-2021 1.  Roll Call 2.  Division I and Division II Classification The Board of Control voted the following for the classification period that ... (click for more)