The success of Virginia’s laws against synthetic drugs is partly to blame for the synthetic drug problem in East Tennessee, reports the Bristol Herald-Courier.
“We’re somewhat a victim of the success of the Virginia law,” Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said earlier this week at a news conference about the drugs. “It effectively drove them [sellers of synthetic drugs] to Tennessee.”
He also said that the east part of the state seems hit the hardest by synthetic drugs, and is worried that, if left unchecked by legislature, the problem will grow throughout the state.
Tennessee has a synthetic drug law, but it contains only a short list of banned chemicals – and omits a number of other compounds that have the same or similar effects. Tennessee lawmakers are looking to change that, and are looking at Virginia’s law as an example, Staubus said. Virginia’s law classifies synthetic drugs based on their effects – in that they mimic controlled substances – and then treats synthetics like the controlled substance it is intended to mimic.
Three bills currently before the Tennessee General Assembly aim to do that; two are sponsored by local representatives Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport.
If the state were to implement mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients — an idea Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is pushing — it would be a higher standard than the state demands for most of its own workers.
So reports TNReport:
“I still want to make sure we’re drug testing practically everyone getting any kind of government benefits,” Ramsey told reporters last week.
Meanwhile, no state agencies participate in a program promoted to businesses by the Tennessee Department of Labor as effective in keeping workplaces safe and productivity up.
The “Drug Free Workplace Program,” in which businesses get a 5 percent break on worker’s compensation premiums in exchange for testing workers, enlists businesses and local governments to test all workers prior to employment, as well as employees involved in workplace accidents.
In general, though, most of the state’s 46,000 employees don’t have to provide urine samples as a condition of accepting a job, according to state labor department spokesman Jeff Hentschel.
Normally, only those state employees with safety-sensitive jobs are required to submit to drug tests. In the agency that runs the prison system, all employees are tested, but in a handful of other departments — such as Commerce and Insurance, Agriculture, and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities — only workers who handle heavy machinery or perform potentially dangerous work
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has renewed his call for drug testing of people who receive government-related benefits and says it will be a priority in the current legislative session, reports Rick Locker.
“We will have some legislation ready to go on that. I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to be right now but it will deal with making sure that when people apply for unemployment compensation that they’re supposed to get it, and second of all, I still want to make sure that we’re drug testing practically everyone getting any kind of government benefits,” Ramsey said.
…Gov. Bill Haslam has said he’s not sold on the concept of drug testing recipients on state assistance, largely because he’s not sure of the costs and whether it’s legal under federal law. House Republican leaders have also stopped short of endorsing the idea.
But that didn’t deter Ramsey on Friday. And when questioned on the issue in light of the state’s shift in policy on economic development incentives — Haslam’s legislative package unveiled last week would add outright grants of taxpayer cash to the state’s existing arsenal of tax breaks, worker training and infrastructure assistance — Ramsey said he’d be “fine” with testing corporate executives, too.
“It’s fine with me. I mean I’ll have to check into that,” he said.
“I’m fine with that. I’m fine with legislators being drug tested. Because I know that we will be criticized if we target one segment of society like that. But you’re right, if they’re getting state money, federal money — oh I shouldn’t — I don’t know how you define who the executives are.” He said that’s something lawmakers would have to look into.
In his weekly column, Robert Houk critiques Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s call for drug testing of those receiving government-related benefits.
Tennessee’s lieutenant governor believes it’s time to get tough on those collecting a government check (not to mention such rhetoric energizes the GOP base in an election year). Ramsey recently told the Nashville Chamber of Commerce (does he ever speak to any group other than a business-related concern?) it is time for lawmakers to protect tax dollars from those on the state dole.
“Folks, we don’t need to give any support to that lifestyle,” the Associated Press reported Ramsey as telling the chamber group.
Lifestyle? I would understand what he meant by “lifestyle” if he was talking about the lifestyle of power and privilege flaunted on Capitol Hill whenever lobbyists for big business line up outside the doors of legislative leaders and ask for special treatment from state government.
Nope, Ramsey is talking about a proud middle-aged man who is collecting workers’ comp after being injured on the job. He is talking about a single mom on TennCare trying desperately to hold her family together.
If Ramsey had his way, both these people would be forced to submit to what the courts have called an unconstitutional search, not to mention a humiliating invasion of their personal privacy.
But then again that’s the Ron Ramsey we’ve gotten to know as lieutenant governor. Let’s scapegoat the poor and unemployed. Remember, Ramsey is also the guy who said back in November that collecting unemployment benefits could become “a lifestyle” for some Tennesseans.
And so can collecting a fat state pension.
If Ramsey and others are so dead-set on passing this bill, I hope they will add an amendment requiring all current members of the General Assembly, as well as retired legislators who are currently collecting a pension check, to submit to regular drug tests. They shouldn’t mind, unless they have something to hide.
From a George Korda commentary on Sen. Stacey Campfield’s drug-testing legislation:
Campfield’s proposal strikes a taxpayer-populist chord. Taxpayers are fighting to keep their jobs, homes, retirement. The idea that on their dime welfare recipients may be funding a drug habit is…objectionable.
Furthermore, it’s not easy to tell a person who has had to take a drug test to get or keep a job that it’s unconstitutional and unfair to ask a welfare recipient to take a drug test as a condition of receiving tax dollars.
Campfield knows what’s coming. His legislation will be slammed in editorials. There will be commentators who take to the airwaves to denounce him as cruel and an embarrassment to the state. He will be called many names.
But all that and more has been thrown at him before now. And the people who don’t like Stacy Campfield, well, they’ll have to do what they can to keep their heads from exploding. Whether Campfield’s legislation passes or is sentenced to death by study committee, he’ll probably lose only the vote he already never gets and solidify his hold on his supporters.
With every denunciation directed at Campfield voting taxpayers will be reminded of the avowed purpose of his legislation. Thus, whether his legislation passes, or doesn’t, he’s positioned to win this one, too.
State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, says state legislators should be required to take drug tests, too, if they impose that requirement on welfare recepients, reports WMC-TV. He got the message from constituents.
“They said to me, ‘how do we know y’all aren’t on drugs?'” said Hardaway. “I thought, well, you don’t.”
Hardaway said they are upset over a bill that would require anyone who receives government welfare assistance to first take and pass a drug test.
“With all the crazy legislation that we produce over the last couple of years, I’m sure that some people would love for us to be drug tested,” said Hardaway.
He said he plans to introduce legislation requiring lawmakers pass a drug test if and when the welfare drug test issue comes up, which appears likely.
Opponents to the legislation said it may be cost-prohibitive and illegal.
“I think we need to see what sort of federal leeway we have there,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said Tuesday. “I haven’t gotten that data back on what the feds will let us do and who would implement that and how it would be implemented.”
While Hardaway has yet to review the language of the most recent bill, he argued that drug testing welfare recipients merely serves to perpetuate a vicious cycle.
Note: Sen. Stacey Campfield, who is planning to file drug-testing legislation, has said that he would support a bill requiring testing of legislators as well. (Both in an interview with yours truly and on his blog.)
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN) – State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) announced today that he will sponsor prescription drug abuse legislation in the 2012 legislative session to require doctors, pharmacists or their designees to check the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database before prescribing or filling prescriptions for scheduled drugs. In addition, a separate bill being drafted by Senator Yager would require that anyone who picks up a prescription for a scheduled drug must show photo identification.
Yager was the sponsor of legislation passed in the 2011 legislative session that will go into effect January 1 cracking down on prescription drug abuse at pain clinics in Tennessee. That law required the Department of Health, in concert with the doctors, nurses and physician assistants, to establish rules to govern the operation of clinics, including personnel, patient records, data collection and reporting, inspections, health and safety requirement and patient billing.
Beginning 2012, no pain management clinic will be allowed to operate without a certificate from the Department of Health, which can deny one to an applicant who has committed a felony or a misdemeanor related to the distribution of illegal prescription drugs or a controlled substance.
“Tennessee ranks second in the nation in regard to the overutilization of prescription pain medications,” said Senator Yager. “It is important that we continue to take steps to address this huge health and public safety issue in our state. The current state database is under utilized and closure of this loophole will strengthen our fight against the tragic epidemic of prescription drug misuse.”
Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell said Wednesday they want some questions answered before joining some state senators in calling for drug testing of Tennesseans seeking taxpayer-funded benefits.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he plans to push three bills calling for drug testing in the 2012 legislative session – one dealing with persons on welfare, one for those drawing unemployment compensation and one for those receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
The senator said he has “no problem” with Haslam and Harwell’s stance, which is somewhat more cautious than the ringing endorsement delivered a week earlier by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is speaker of the Senate.
Eddie Davis takes notes at every death scene in Hamblen County. He’s served as coroner for 20 years. He counted 28 fatal drug overdoses in his county two years ago. The Tennessee Department of Health counted six.
More from Matt Lakin’s story:
“I don’t know how they’re keeping their numbers, but that’s ridiculous,” Davis said.
“They’re at least three or four times off. We’re a county of a little over 50,000 people, and we’re averaging about one case a week of either suspected or known overdoses. We had 53 last year. In the first nine months of this year we had 43. We’ve had about 250 in the past 10 years, and the number’s growing.”
He and others believe Tennessee’s system of reporting and investigating deaths grossly undercounts the number of fatal overdoses each year. The critics range from police to medical professionals, who say the official numbers paint a shallow portrait of the state’s most deadly drug problem.
“We don’t have a consistent system of reporting,” said Elizabeth Sherrod, coordinator of the Tennessee Drug Diversion Task Force. “We don’t have a clear picture, because there’s no agency tracking that. It is a money issue. If police or a family don’t get an autopsy done, we don’t have that information. If we could just get toxicology screens done in every (death) case, I think we would see we’re not too far behind Florida, and they’re losing seven people a day.”
Numbers like those would translate to more than 2,500 deaths a year, shoving car wrecks aside and placing overdoses close behind heart disease and cancer as one of the state’s top killers. Police say they’ve known it for years — and been waiting for an outcry that never came
Tennessee created a statewide task force on prescription-drug abuse four years ago and never set aside a penny to fund it, reports the News Sentinel as part of a story package on pill abuse.
The state Drug Diversion Task Force subsists on volunteer efforts in its battle against Tennessee’s most widespread drug problem.
“Everybody thinks we get money,” said Elizabeth Sherrod, the task force coordinator. “We get nothing. Speakers at our meetings travel at their own expense.”
Sherrod works by day as a senior special agent for TVA’s Office of the Inspector General, investigating waste and fraud. She spends her spare time as nominal head of the task force working to promote awareness of prescription-drug abuse and its dangers.
The task force, created in 2007 by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, has no full-time staff and no budget. No state, federal or private grants cover its expenses.
No agents wearing Drug Diversion Task Force badges batter down doors or haul pill pushers away in handcuffs, although its members include law-enforcement agents. Members meet on a quarterly schedule.
“We think of it more as an alliance,” she said. “We bring together law enforcement, health care and other professions. It’s just about the passion of everybody in these communities to come together and fix this problem.”
The task force operates a Web site, www.tndrugdiversion.org, and a tip line, 877-FOR-RXTN. A prevention campaign produced posters but no major radio, television or newspaper ads.
Sherrod said she’s worked for the past few years to organize annual training conferences for police and health-care workers. Those events rely on donated space and can’t offer reimbursement for travel or expenses.
“We offer training to investigators free of charge,” she said. “Eventually we’ll be at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy (in Nashville), covering topics like prescription fraud, addiction, hospital diversion, the drugs that are abused and the way they’re abused.”
Note: A summary of the other News Sentinel stories on prescription drug abuse is HERE.