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Anti-meth efforts have little impact: State report

Sunday, January 12, 2014

An updated report on methamphetamine production in Tennessee shows it remains a serious issue for the state, and two methods aimed at stopping it have so far shown inconclusive results.

Meth is an illegal, highly addictive drug which can be made from household ingredients and certain types of cold and allergy medicines -- primarily pseudoephedrine.

Electronic tracking

One method for limiting meth production is electronic tracking of purchases of cold medicines commonly used to produce meth. Tennessee and 28 other states have adopted a real-time electronic tracking system called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx).

But the study shows that the number of meth lab incidents reported by police has not fallen substantially since the state began using it in 2012.

And, last year, 18 local governments in Tennessee passed local ordinances requiring a prescription to buy meth precursors within their jurisdictions. However, in December, the state Attorney General's Office issued an opinion that the ordinances violate state law.

Precursors

State and federal laws limit the amount of the medicine, called "precursors" by law enforcement, that people can purchase.

In two states, Mississippi and Oregon, you must have a prescription to buy precursors, and meth lab incidents in 2012 in Oregon remained at low levels, the report stated, while Mississippi continued to decline. Meth lab incidents in some other nearby states have also followed similar trends.

According to the report by Susan Mattson, principal legislative research analyst, in 2012 Bedford County had a total of 17 meth lab incidents reported, while neighboring Coffee County had 60 labs.

Fifteen counties accounted for about 50 percent of the 1,811 reported lab incidents statewide, with Coffee being number eight on the list.

Mattson reported that not enough data is available to assess the impact of local prescription-only ordinances in Tennessee.

Area response

The police chief of Winchester has noted a decline in meth lab incidents, as well as a decline in "smurfing" and associated crimes, since municipal ordinances in Franklin County became effective in June 2013.

"Smurfs" are people that meth producers pay to buy the required pseudoephedrine for the addictive drug.

But Tim Miller, the director of the Shelbyville-based 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force, says he hasn't seen a reduction.

Miller says newer methods of manufacturing meth may be to blame.

"It's a lot easier to cook. A lot of people are their own drug dealers," Miller said.

Heavy load

DTF agents fight other types of illegal drugs, Miller says, but meth takes a large chunk of their time.

"We as a task force could spend all our time working meth cases," Miller said.

As for other counties in the 17th Judicial District, Marshall County had eight labs, while Lincoln County reported 19 and Moore County had none in 2012, the report said.

High levels

Meth production in the state remains at high levels. According to the report, between 2008 and 2012, Tennessee and Missouri reported the two highest numbers of lab incidents in the nation.

The study on making meth was released by the state Comptroller's Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) this past week.