Category Archives: drugs

Pastor charged with taking state grant for nonexistent program

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has accused the pastor and associate pastor at Nashville’s Mt. Hopewell Baptist Church, Clinton Lewis and Andre Trice, of collecting state grant money for an addiction treatment program that did not exist, reports The Tennessean.

The two men have been under investigation by TBI special agents for the last year.

According to the TBI, Lewis and Trice fraudulently received more than $60,000 in grant money from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for an addiction recovery program they operated as part of the Mt. Hopewell Community Development Corp. The investigation revealed the clients on the list submitted to the state did not actually receive any program services from at least 2011 to 2015.

In some cases, those clients turned out to be deceased or incarcerated, and those listed as counselors in the program didn’t know the program was still operating, according to TBI.

“Although Pastor Lewis is stunned by the Grand Jury’s decision to indict him on these charges, he is comforted in the fact that he will have an opportunity to clear his name of any and all illegal conduct,” Lewis’ attorney, Jamaal Boykin, said. According to Boykin, Lewis still has the strong and full support of his congregation.

TN, VA govs talk opioid addiction with agriculture secretary

By Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press
ABINGDON, Va. — Kicking off a national tour on opioid addiction, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack brought together the governors of Tennessee and Virginia on Thursday to talk about stemming Appalachia’s drug abuse epidemic.

The town hall reinforced President Barack Obama’s call for Congress to pump $1.1 billion more into substance abuse treatment. It also was an opportunity to show that governors of opposite parties want to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, despite Republican efforts to stop them.

Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam see solutions in a mix of treatment, prescription monitoring, drug courts, education and new economic opportunities.

West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths, with 35.5 per 100,000 people. Kentucky has the fourth-highest toll and Tennessee the eleventh, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s everybody’s problem,” McAuliffe said. “Of course, we need money.” Continue reading

Senate kills referendum on decriminalizing marijuana

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill that would have allowed Tennesseans to weigh in on whether to decriminalize possession of low-level amounts of marijuana has failed in the Legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee killed the proposal on Tuesday.

The measure (SB2321), which was sponsored by Memphis Democrats Antonio Parkinson and Sara Kyle, would not have legalized marijuana possession. Instead, it would have allowed voters to make their opinion known on whether police should arrest people in possession of one ounce of marijuana or less or give them a warning instead.

The proposal would have allowed Metro governments or municipalities with their own police departments to put the question on whether to arrest or warn to voters during a normal election. The results of the election would be advisory only.

Approved bill makes penalties higher for repeat DUI, lower for drug possession


A bill increasing penalties for repeat DUI offenders while reducing the penalties for simple drug possession has won final legislative approval with a 32-0 vote Monday in the state Senate.

Further from The Tennessean:

The measure (HB1478)… would would make three or more convictions for simple possession of any drug — including marijuana and cocaine — a misdemeanor. Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance for personal use and doesn’t plan on delivering or selling it.

The bill also would make it a Class C felony for anyone convicted of six or more DUIs and carjackings. Currently, those convicted of four or more DUIs are punished with a Class E felony.

The measure hit a brief roadblock in the House last month as Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, fielded questions about the bill, as well as attempts to amend it that would have significantly changed the legislation. Lamberth delayed a vote on the bill for two weeks before it was taken up again and ultimately approved with an 80-7 vote on Thursday.


AP story on demise of TN ‘fetal assault’ law

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brittany Hudson was pregnant, addicted to painkillers and afraid of a Tennessee law that calls for the arrest of mothers of drug-dependent babies. She eventually gave birth without medical help, on the side of a road in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hudson’s dilemma, doctors say, was one of many unintended consequences of the Tennessee Legislature’s decision in 2014 to become the first and only state with an explicit criminal offense for these addicted mothers.

The law was meant to deter drug abuse by threatening mothers with up to a year behind bars, while allowing them to avoid jail and have their assault convictions removed if they got drug treatment. It was also an experiment with a “sunset” clause, meaning it will expire this July because the law’s supporters lacked the votes to extend it.

The problem of drug use and pregnancy is worsening nationwide, with a drug-dependent baby born every 25 minutes in the U.S. at a cost of $1.5 billion in additional health care, according to a Vanderbilt study. And states can’t just arrest their way out of it, said Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist who co-authored the study.

Continue reading

House votes higher penalties for DUI, lower for drug possession

From WPLN:
The Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a plan to lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession and raise them for driving drunk six times or more.

Lawmakers voted 80-7 Thursday to approve House Bill 1478. The proposal was put forward by Sumner County Republican William Lamberth, a former prosecutor.

He says it’ll make sure people with numerous DUIs spend more time behind bars.

“And it allows for some mercy (for) those folks that are addicts that unfortunately get caught the third time with simple possession of drugs,” Lamberth says.

The plan would turn drug possession into a misdemeanor. That means users — even those convicted three times or more — would receive less than a year in jail.

Meanwhile, people with six DUIs could get up to 15 years in prison. The measure also forces people convicted of carjacking to serve more time.

The state Senate could vote on the proposal next week.

Further from The Tennessean:
The legislation stalled when it was discussed on the House floor on March 17, after Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, attempted to amend the bill to exclude harder drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, from the changes to multiple convictions of simple possession. Stewart also tried to gut the bill and insert an amendment that would have made marijuana possession a misdemeanor.

Although both efforts from Stewart failed, the bill generated enough conversation and questions among House members that Lamberth delayed action on the legislation.

On Thursday the bill generated no discussion or debate before the chamber voted on it.

‘Fetal assault bill’ may lead to more drug treatment funding for pregnant women

An impassioned and unresolved controversy over whether to continue criminal prosecution of women who give birth to drug-addicted babies has birthed a bipartisan and unanimous committee crusade to spend more state money on treatment for addiction.

All members of the state House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, where the opposing sides argued emotionally and at length about the “fetal assault bill” last week, signed on afterward to a proposed state budget amendment that would provide $10 million in new funding “for the sole purpose of drug addiction treatment services for pregnant women and newborn babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

The bill, HB1660, appeared on the verge of defeat after a Sevier County judge who presides over a drug court joined others in telling legislators that a two-year experiment in authorizing prosecution of addicted mothers has been a failure.

The others included a Blount County mother who is among about 100 women prosecuted under the law — she drew applause after testifying, with legislators joining in a technical violation of legislative rules — as well as a doctor specializing in neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, and people involved in addiction treatment.

Legislators in 2014 made Tennessee the first state in the nation to enact such a statute, deeming illegal use of drugs just prior to birth a misdemeanor assault on the fetus — thus the “fetal assault” label. But included in 2014 was an automatic repeal on July 1, 2016, unless renewed by the General Assembly.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, who sponsored the 2014 law as well as the bill this year to keep it on the books permanently, joined the committee members in signing as a co-sponsor of the $10 million drug treatment budget amendment, drafted by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, a former prosecutor who staunchly supports the measure. Continue reading

Vote delayed on changing DUI, drug possession penalties

The sponsor of a bill aimed to increase penalties for offenders convicted of multiple DUIs and decrease the punishment for those found carrying small amounts of drugs pulled back the measure on Thursday amid questions from his House colleagues.

further from The Tennessean:

The bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, would make three or more convictions for simple possession of any drug — including marijuana and cocaine — a misdemeanor. Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance for personal use — they don’t plan on delivering or selling it.

Lamberth’s bill also would increase the penalties for offenders convicted of multiple DUIs and carjackings.

The legislation, which received approval in four separate House committees, was set for a vote on Thursday but hit a barrier after lawmakers discussed the measure for nearly 40 minutes, which included two attempts to cut off debate.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, attempted to amend the bill in two ways. His first amendment sought to exclude harder drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, from the changes to multiple convictions of simple possession; the second would have gutted the entire bill and made possession of marijuana a misdemeanor offense.

While both of Stewart’s amendments failed, the bill was altered to remove heroin from the conviction changes.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, said they supported the DUI aspects of the bill but were concerned about the portion pertaining to drugs.

“Throughout my entire life, I’ve been taught to temper justice with mercy,” Lamberth said, while defending the bill. He noted that those with three or more simple possession convictions would actually face more jail time than they do today, but a felony would not be on their record.

Cancer survivor Ketron loses effort to help others

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, a cancer survivor, has lost an effort to reduce costs to patients for orally administered cancer drugs after two weeks of sometime emotional debate.

Only three members of the Senate Commerce Committee, one a Democrat, ultimately voted for the bill by the Murfreesboro lawmaker, who said he had vowed to help other cancer patients after his own yearlong bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Six fellow Republicans voted no.

“As I lay in the hospital I told God that if he would help me survive I would do everything to help all other cancer patients in the state,” he told the panel at one point.

The bill (SB2091) requires medical insurance policies that cover cancer treatments to set co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance costs for oral drugs – including some that are “off label,” or officially designated for other purposes – at the same level as those that are injected. It was staunchly opposed by lobbyists for the insurance industry while supported by advocates for cancer patients, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Tennessee.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, contended the measure would conflict with long-standing conservative sentiment against mandates for insurance coverage.

Johnson last month won Senate passage of a bill intended to make it more difficult to enact insurance mandates in the future. The measure (SB1619) requires that any mandated health benefit will apply equally to TennCare as well as to private insurance companies. In the past, some mandates have excluded TennCare so the bill would not have any cost to state government. Legislation that imposes a new cost on state government without the spending being specifically authorized in the state budget is far more difficult to pass.

The House version of that bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, is scheduled for a House vote Monday and considered likely to win approval.

Note: A press release thanking Ketron for his efforts is below. Continue reading

With erectile dysfunction bill down, Democrats try ‘tampon tax’ cut

While a House subcommittee killed last week a proposal from two Democratic women to put new restrictions on erectile dysfunction medications, they are now pushing legislation that would reduce the state sales tax on diapers, feminine hygiene products and nonprescription drugs.

The erectile dysfunction bill (HB1927) was killed on voice vote by the House Health Subcommittee after Dr. John Hale, president of the Tennessee Medical Association, declared the statewide physicians’ organization opposed the measure as unnecessary and unwarranted.

“You’d make a lot of your constituents very unhappy if you pass this,” Hale, a Union City doctor, warned the panel.

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, and Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, sponsored the measure – perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek – as a contrast to Republican legislators enacting various measures to put restrictions on abortion, often arguing that concern over women’s health motivated their efforts.
Continue reading