“Breaking Bad” was TV fiction. So was “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Their themes converge in methamphetamine production in Tennessee, but with real-world outcomes: Meth destroys health and lives of thousands of Tennesseans, and sometimes kills. And local sheriffs and police officers must try to stop it, even when they get no help from the state capitol or anywhere else.
Officials at the state level know that Tennessee has the nation’s worst meth addiction. They joined a national registry intended to track and prevent purchasing patterns for cold medicines that contain the critical ingredients for making meth.
It’s not working.
In fact, it seems the database isn’t even making a dent in meth-lab production throughout Tennessee. Earlier this year, state Department of Safety and TBI officials expressed some frustration, especially after Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and TBI’s Mark Gwyn had made destruction of meth labs a priority, but have seen labs resurging, whether they are the prototypical backwoods shack or a 2-liter soda bottle stashed in a parked car.
And these labs are deadly not only for the drugs they produce, but also for their volatility. Meth makers and family members, including small children, have received severe burns when labs explode.
Backers of the state legislation that instituted the meth offender registry will say that the law is working, but it’s just a lot of noise. The eyewitnesses to meth production, local law enforcement, have been supporting municipalities across Tennessee and other states in passing ordinances that have had a real impact in stopping meth: making cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only.
At least 19 cities in Tennessee have banned over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine, which by no means includes all cold remedies. In the city of Winchester, there has been a 70 percent drop in meth labs and a 14 percent reduction in the overall crime rate.
The one problem: This and similar ordinances may be in violation of the Tennessee Constitution. That is the opinion of state Attorney General Bob Cooper, and while the local ordinances already enacted may still be in force, his opinion has halted the spread of similar ordinances in the face of state-level ineffectiveness.
It is easy to see what must be done: Change state law to require prescriptions for products that contain ingredients for meth. Representatives for pharmaceutical companies oppose this, and they say that it doesn’t work.
But it does. Fed up with its high level of meth crime, Mississippi enacted a prescription requirement in 2010. Since then, the number of operational meth labs there has declined 97 percent, according to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.
Pharmaceutical industry reps say that meth is still present in Mississippi and Oregon (the only other state courageous enough to pass a prescription requirement) if only because meth also crosses state lines and is brought in from other countries. That may be, because the numbers in cities like Winchester don’t lie. If meth availability and associated criminal activity are substantially reduced, isn’t it worth it?
Consider not only the lives saved from meth use, but also the other problems that law enforcement would be able to devote to more time to solving.
Lives and the safety of entire communities in exchange for a slight inconvenience at the drug counter for cold sufferers: What do you think our state legislature should do?
The General Assembly will not adopt the prescription requirement on its own; too many legislators are generously compensated from within the pharmaceutical industry. These lawmakers need our encouragement to take the only step that has been shown to be effective against meth: Pass the Rx.