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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tennessee Law Enforcer Wants Drug Companies To Do More To Fight Meth

This dashboard police video photo shows what authorities say is a mobile shake-and-bake meth lab vehicle burning in August, 2011, in Clarksville, Tenn. (AP)

This dashboard police video photo shows what authorities say is a mobile shake-and-bake meth lab vehicle burning in August, 2011, in Clarksville, Tenn. (AP)

Tennessee’s director of a state task force on methamphetamine use says a drug bust in Mexico earlier this month could help the situation in his state.

The Associated Press reports that most of the meth in Tennessee comes from Mexico. But Tommy Farmer points out that some of it is made right in Tennessee — in people’s homes, garages, and cars.

The Impact Of Meth On Burn Units

A do-it-yourself approach allows people to cook up the drug in a plastic bottle.

But it’s dangerous — something Dr. Jeffrey Guy of Vanderbilt University sees firsthand as a surgeon specializing in burn and trauma surgery. He told us in a recent interview that a third of his patients are meth users.

He also said that drugstores could do more to stop the problem.

Some are putting cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine,which addicts distill to make meth, right next to the Gatorade bottles they cook it in.

Regulating Pseudoephedrine, Meth’s Main Ingredient

In most states pseudoephedrine products are available over the counter, with a range of restrictions. But a number are trying to make it prescription-only– as Oregon and Mississippi have.

Which brings us back to Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force.

Farmer was in favor of a prescription-only bill in Tennessee, but his efforts failed after a lobbying effort by drug companies, who succeeded in getting the bill defeated. Instead, a less strict law was created that mandates new technology to track those who buy pseudoephedrine products.

Drug Industry’s Lobby Effort In Tennessee

Farmer says though he thinks the new tracking is a positive step, he still wants a law that goes further and makes pseudoephedrine products only available to those with a prescription.

He argues that there are other products on the market without pseudoephedrine that can have a similar use to customers, which of course drug companies disagree with.

He says that the drug company lobbyists who fought against a prescription-only bill might have a different understanding if they spent more time in Tennessee.

“Come spend some time in our trenches. Come Monday morning, they move onto the next thing,” Farmer said. “Come Monday morning with us, we have to go back to taking the calls or talking to the moms and dads who have lost their children.”

He says that because meth can be homemade with pseudoephedrine, it requires huge resources from law enforcement, that could be put elsewhere.

“While we’re spending 14 hours cleaning up a meth lab, we could be devoting our resources towards dismantling these Mexican meth organizations, instead of having to train and equip our law enforcement to spend hours.. stabilizing and packaging and removing all of these hazardous chemicals from this lab site,” he said.


We reached out to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which lobbies on behalf of drug companies. They provided this statement, from Scott Melville, president and CEO.

“Methamphetamine is an extremely serious problem that deserves a strong and effective regional and national response. Our industry is committed to being part of the solution. However, requiring prescriptions for common cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine— such as Advil Cold & Sinus, Allegra-D, Claritin-D, Mucinex D, and Sudafed —that have been relied on by consumers for years and even decades will not solve the problem of methamphetamine. It will only place new costs and access restrictions on the 18 million law-abiding American families who rely on these medicines for relief of their symptoms each year.

“The common-sense solution is real-time, stop-sale technology that can block the illegal sale of pseudoephedrine before they are obtained by criminals. This approach has been proven to work in the 19 states that have implemented this technology, with over 1.5 million grams of pseudoephedrine blocked in the seven states that have had the system in place long enough to track sales. Electronic blocking technology also provides law enforcement with important leads on potential methamphetamine users so they can focus their limited resources on criminals, not consumers seeking cost-effective healthcare remedies.

“Law-abiding consumers should not be forced to bear the burden of a prescription mandate. Of the 21 states that have implemented policies aimed at addressing the methamphetamine problem, 19 have chosen to adopt proven technology that targets criminals while protecting patient access to nonprescription medicines that many cold and allergy sufferers depend on for relief.”

Associated Press National meth lab busts up in 2011

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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