'I Hate Meth Act' Will Help Save Lives

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'I Hate Meth Act' Will Help Save Lives

It’s a battle we’ve been fighting for years in Tennessee. Methamphetamine manufacturing and the use of meth are major public safety challenges. The Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force identifies meth as the largest drug threat for most law enforcement agencies in the state. And the problem is growing. Law enforcement officials seized 2,082 meth labs in Tennessee in 2010 – a record number.

Meth is a highly addictive drug that affects the central nervous system. Medical experts say many people are hooked after just one use. Meth can destroy the user’s life and often devastates the user’s family. The process used to make meth is highly dangerous. It can destroy the user’s home and put the entire community at risk.

I recently signed the “I Hate Meth Act” into law, which is aimed to confront the dangers of meth head on. Many of the provisions in this comprehensive piece of legislation took affect July 1 and will help us combat the meth problem on many levels. It will help us save lives and save tax dollars.

Children are often the innocent victims of meth who can be injured or even killed when adults around them are making the drug. This new law will help us protect these young victims. Beginning in July, simply starting the process of manufacturing meth in front of a child is aggravated child endangerment. If the child is eight years of age or younger, it is a Class A felony with a standard range of 15 to 25 years in prison. If the child is over eight years of age, it is a Class B felony, which could mean eight to 15 years behind bars, if convicted. This makes the consequences for making meth in front of a child as serious as the offense of making meth itself. According to the Department of Children’s Services, in 2010, 484 children were removed from homes due to such incidents, endangering the lives of our children and costing taxpayers millions of dollars for foster care. That is a 68 percent increase over 2009.

Under the new law, certain activities, such as purchasing more than the maximum allowable amount of the precursor drug pseudoephedrine or using false identification to purchase pseudoephedrine, are class A misdemeanors. This will make it easier to prosecute the “smurfers,” a term used to describe those who buy pseudoephedrine and hand it over to people cooking meth.

Effective January 1, 2012, all pharmacies in Tennessee must use the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx).  NPLEx is a real-time electronic logging system used by pharmacies to track sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications containing precursors to methamphetamine. The data must be promptly exported (at least every 24 hours) to the law-enforcement maintained Tennessee Meth Information System (TMIS) database.  The NPLEx system will be at no cost to pharmacies or the state. NPLEx must also have a stop sale mechanism for potential purchasers over the allowable purchase limit and for anyone on the state’s meth offender registry.

Another provision of the “I Hate Meth Act” calls on the state Comptroller to conduct a study of meth and the availability of pseudoephedrine as a factor in the manufacture of meth. The study will specifically include a look at whether pseudoephedrine products should be available only by prescription. The results of the study are to be released no later than January 1, 2013.    

Most meth labs produce pounds of toxic waste. Meth cooks often pour leftover chemicals and hazardous materials down drains and onto the ground, creating unsafe living and environmental conditions. It has been costing taxpayers approximately $2,000 per meth lab to clean up what is left behind. Reducing the number of meth labs is not only a safety issue, but it will save money and the environment.

Last month I announced the availability of more than $1 million to assist in meth lab cleanup. The General Assembly appropriated $750,000 to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to disperse to local agencies.  In addition, the state has received $280,000 in federal grant funding to purchase special storage containers and additional supplies for the disposal of meth waste.  

Soon, we will start a targeted communication effort coordinated by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to warn individuals of the consequences of violating this new law, specifically making meth in front of children and purchasing pseudoephedrine for non-medical or illegal purposes. The campaign is funded by a federal grant to the department and a donation from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association to the District Attorneys Association.

Meth has become a scourge on our state. This new law is an important step in fighting the battle against meth on many fronts. It will go a long way to help make Tennessee safer.
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