Tennessee struggling with homemade meth problem

Here and Now

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

Most of the meth in Tennessee comes from Mexico. But some of it is made right in Tennessee — in people’s homes, garages and cars.

One particular variety, known as shake-and-bake, allows people to cook up the drug in a plastic bottle.

But it’s all dangerous — something Dr. Jeffrey Guy of Vanderbilt University sees firsthand as a surgeon specializing in burn and trauma surgery. A third of his patients are meth users, he said.

He wants drugstores to do more to stop the problem. He says that some drugstores are going so far as to put cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine, which is used to make meth, right next to the Gatorade bottles they can cook it in.

Farmer tried to get a law passed requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine-containing drugs. That failed, but Farmer was able to get a bill passed that provides for stricter tracking of people buying those sorts of drugs.

“We just didn’t get the results. We did see some initial reductions in lab seizures, but they were almost immediately overcome,” Farmer said “Labs actually back on the rise, even to a level that surpassed our original record highs.”

In most states pseudoephedrine products are available without a prescription, but with a range of restrictions. Only Oregon and Mississippi have made it so a prescription is required to purchase.

Farmer still wants a law that is similar to those states’.

“There was significant opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and, we just had a fundamental difference of opinion,” Farmer said.

In a statement, Scott Melville, president and CEO of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said while meth is a serious problem, making pseudoephedrine-containing drugs available only by prescription is an unnecessary step.

“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,” Farmer said.

But Farmer said there are other products on the market without pseudoephedrine that can have a similar use to customers. And these sorts of changes are necessary to save lives, he said.

And there’s a financial cost as well. Meth manufacturing requires a huge commitment from from law enforcement, resources 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.

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