ELIZABETHTON — Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes praised Gov. Bill Haslam’s methamphetamine bill that was filed in the General Assembly this week.
Speaking at a small news conference in his office Friday morning, Mathes thanked Haslam for listening last year when Mathes and four other sheriffs representing the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association met with him. Mathes said he asked the governor at that time for statewide help in dealing with the increasing problems of methamphetamine production.
“We are excited the governor listened to us,” Mathes said. He said Haslam’s bill “makes it tougher to get large amounts of pseudoephedrine,” a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine. He said purchases are being tracked under the current law, but criminals have figured out ways to get around it.
Under Haslam’s bill, customers would be limited to one box of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine per month. That works out to 2.4 grams in 30 days.
Pseudoephedrine is effective in providing relief from the symptoms of allergies and colds, and Mathes said the pharmaceutical industry will probably lobby against the bill.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association has already argued that the governor’s bill puts an undue burden on consumers.
“We commend Governor Haslam and other Tennessee leaders for their desire to address the state’s methamphetamine problem, but the legislation proposed today would burden law-abiding Tennesseans — particularly those who suffer from frequent allergy symptoms — with severe restrictions on the amount of certain cold and allergy medicines they can obtain before consulting a doctor,” said Scott Melville, president and chief executive officer of CHPA.
The organization pointed out that Tennessee has some of the most severe allergy seasons in the country, with three major cities, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, among the top 10 most-challenging places to live with fall allergy symptoms, 2013 Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America data said.
Mathes countered by saying most pharmacists he has talked with have told him that most sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrine are not being bought by cold and allergy sufferers.
“Pharmacists tell me that between 75 and 90 percent of it is being purchased in order to cook meth,” Mathes said
Mathes said methamphetamine is a serious community health problem.
“It is destroying our communities,” he said.
Among the health problems he cited were the number of burn patients from methamphetamine lab explosions.
“Over half the patients in our burn centers are the result of meth lab fires,” Mathes said.
He also said one in three children placed in foster care were removed from methamphetamine-contaminated homes.
While the governor’s bill won’t cure those problems, he said “when there is less pseudoephedrine, there is less methamphetamine being made.”
The CHPA argued that the governor’s bill would be tantamount to a prescription mandate for chronic allergy sufferers. The organization said such a law would “impose unnecessary burdens on law-abiding citizens’ time and pocketbooks.”
Mathes is especially interested in the methamphetamine problem because Carter County has consistently ranked as one of the top three counties in the state in clandestine methamphetamine laboratory busts.
He said one of those in Roan Mountain was especially bad. He called it a “super lab” because it contained “tons of waste” and more than a pound of highly reactive lithium. He said Tommy Farmer with the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force said it was the biggest such lab found in the state.