Roy Exum: Governor Haslam’s Halfway Right

Sunday, January 19, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Governor Bill Haslam took a half step towards a better Tennessee this week when he announced a bill that would limit the amount of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine that an individual can buy every 30 days. Some cold and allergy medicines contain the chemical compounds, which just so happen to be the key ingredients in a vicious street drug known as “Meth,” short for methamphetamine. Everyone agrees something must be done.

Tennessee ranks second – right behind Missouri – as the nation’s top producer of the tragic drug and while Governor Haslam’s earnest efforts are indeed commendable, the only thing that law enforcement officials around the country have found that really works is when state lawmakers demand that medicines containing pseudoephedrine cannot be acquired without a doctor’s prescription.

Right now there are two “prescription only” states – Mississippi and Oregon. What we should look at is the fact that during the 2012 calendar year, Missouri had 1,825 meth busts and Tennessee had 1,585. At the same time in the two “prescription” states Oregon had nine (9) busts and Mississippi had five (5). Are you kidding me? My view is that if we are going to fight meth we ought to go full bore, taking a big step instead of half of one.

Last Monday, several days before Haslam’s announcement, a group of lawmakers from Blount County introduced a bill in the legislature that would require a prescription and, meanwhile, pharmaceutical lobbyists are pounding the state representatives in an effort to oppose restrictive measures, giving all sorts of reasons pseudoephedrine should not become a Level 3 drug requiring a doctor’s signature.

When a customer buys over-the-counter medicines that contain pseudoephedrine in Tennessee they must produce a driver’s license, which is documented and entered into a computer network, and sign a form that the drugs will not be abused. (Ironically, patients are not required to do the same steps when they pick up prescription narcotics.)

Critics claim a prescription rule would unfairly force a person to see a doctor (the cost of the visit plus the time it takes) while advocates point to the fact there were about 250 more drug busts in the state this year than last, and what we are doing isn’t coming close to working.

Critics claim a prescription rule will only force the “meth cooks” to cross state lines for their ingredients but advocates claim other states will soon be forced to endorse the prescription rule if we, as a United States, are going to severely limit the manufacture of the illicit drug.

Critics claim most of the meth in Tennessee comes from Mexican cartels while advocates point to the fact the Tennessee’s courts are literally flooded with those who have been caught in the 1,700 busts during 2013 and very few are Mexicans.

Critics claim that 5 percent of the people – bad guys – shouldn’t make 95 percent (the good guys) suffer an undue hardship but advocates point to the enormous costs the taxpayers (the good guys) must bear because of meth (trials, jail, welfare, etc.) each year. The bad guys are bleeding the good guys dry!

Critics claim that the state, known for the high rate of allergies that challenge residents, must allow pseudoephedrine over-the-counter but advocates claim residents in Oregon and Mississippi seem to be doing fine with alternate over-the-counter medicines or prescriptions from their doctors.

Remember this, too. Almost 20 towns in Tennessee had introduced ordinances that called for “prescription only” before the state’s Attorney General, Robert Cooper, found the ordinances violated state law last December. The people who live in those towns preferred to get a prescription rather than find meth was being cooked in some vacant house near their neighborhoods and schools.

If towns like Winchester, Harriman and Decatur were willing to ask for “prescription only” status on their own, why shouldn’t the state legislators take a similar view and drive the meth cooks away from the state of Tennessee. That would be a huge step towards a better Tennessee and even the Governor will agree a big step is better than half of one.

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