Legislation aiming to curb meth production is approved by Senate Judiciary Committee

(NASHVILLE, TN), April 13, 2011 — The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee has approved major legislation to stiffen penalties for making methamphetamines in the presence of a child and to implement a statewide electronic tracking system to curb meth production in the state.  The system, called NPLEx (National Precursor Log Exchange), would monitor and block illegal purchases of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), a key ingredient in methamphetamine production.

The legislation is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt.Juliet).  Beavers and sponsors of other legislation to curb meth production have been working for the past two months to find a way to address Tennessee’s growing methamphetamine problem, without requiring citizens to obtain a prescription in order to get the over-the-counter medicines which are used as precursors for the illegal drug.

“We have worked very hard to come up with a plan to address the illegal use of over-the-counter pseudoephedrine products to make meth, without infringing on the ability of law-abiding citizens to purchase these cold medications legitimately,” said Senator Beavers.  “This bill will give us the real time tracking needed to stop an illegal transaction and provides pharmacists the right to decline the sale if it is deemed not to be for a legitimate medical purpose.  The proposal also prescribes tougher penalties against meth cookers who endanger children and those who go from store to store to buy pseudoephederine products.” 

There is currently no mechanism in place in Tennessee to block illegal PSE sales in real time, as many pharmacies and retailers rely on handwritten, paper logbooks to track purchases. As a result, criminals have learned to circumvent the current system.

Senate Bill 1265 requires that as of January 1, 2012, all pharmacies must use NPLEx, which would export the data to law enforcement.   The NPLEx system will be at no cost to pharmacies or the state.  The proposal calls for a pharmacist or pharmacy intern to counsel the potential purchaser of a product containing pseudoephedrine before the transaction takes place and may decline the sale if it is deemed not to be for a legitimate medical purpose. 

The bill also sets amounts of pseudoephedrine that can be purchased.  A buyer cannot purchase more than 3.6 grams of a pseudoephedrine product per day, or more than 9 grams per 30-day period unless they have a valid prescription or face a Class A misdemeanor penalty.  Doctor or pharmacy shopping to obtain more than that limit, often referred to as “smurfing,” would become a Class A misdemeanor subject to a fine of $1,000 for the first offense and $2,000 for second and subsequent offenses.  The bill also changes the amount of pseudoephedrine in a person’s possession necessary to establish intent to manufacture meth from 20 grams to 15 grams.  Fines assessed under the proposal will be used for cleanup of meth labs.

In addition, the bill calls for the Comptroller to conduct a thorough study of meth and the availability of pseudoephedrine as a factor in the manufacture of meth, with the results of the study to be released no later than January 1, 2013.

“E-tracking will give local law enforcement officials a powerful investigative tool to track meth production,” said Beavers.  “Meth has destroyed many lives in Tennessee.  I am pleased this bill is proceeding through the legislature and believe it will help fight the terrible problem we face with this illegal drug in our state.”

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