Tag Archives: meth

Amid statistical confusion, bill to expand pregnant drug abuse law dies

The Senate Judiciary Committee has killed a bill that would expand a controversial law, approved last session, that allows women to be arrested for harming their newborns through drug abuse during pregnancy, reports The Tennessean. The bill (HB1340), which had already cleared committees in the House, would add methamphetamine to the list of substances that can trigger an arrest when used during pregnancy.

(A) vote on Wednesday against expanding prosecution powers could signal the first step toward repealing the law altogether, said health advocates who say expanding treatment would do more for newborns than putting mothers in jail.

“We feel like people … realize this is not the way to deal with this problem in Tennessee and that we really need to go back to the drawing board,” said Allison Glass, state director of Healthy and Free Tennessee, a nonprofit women’s advocacy group. “The vote signifies that people are really rethinking the punitive way that this law deals with this.”

In a follow-up report Sunday, the newspapers says senators were confused about statistics on how the current law was working.

Within just a few minutes they not only ignored important data that Tennessee actually does collect, but suggested it’s not collected. And they grew agitated about a statistic that doesn’t exist because, when creating a controversial law in 2014, they never assigned anyone to monitor its impact.

…Such drug-dependent births have reached the epidemic level in Tennessee, setting off a flurry of measures to try to reverse the troubling public health trend. In their haste, lawmakers have moved quickly on at-times conflicting approaches.

…Anyone with Internet can find, in seconds, that 188 Tennessee babies this year have shown narcotic drug withdrawal symptoms, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. That’s ahead of last year’s pace.

The continuing increase could also mean that the threat of jail time hasn’t been much of a deterrent for pregnant women gripped by addiction.

…(N)o one has been counting the number of women arrested (since the new law took effect). The state Department of Safety recently conducted a survey, but the results weren’t around as lawmakers considered giving prosecutors extended powers to charge women not just for narcotics, but for meth.

The Tennessean has identified 28 women charged. But senators got hung up on an anecdotal estimate of nine arrests in Shelby County, with Gardenhire — back again on this issue — concluding that “if only nine, then this has become a pretty good deterrent.”

But numbers can be pesky. Whatever the number of arrests in Shelby County, drug-dependent births there are actually ahead of last year’s pace, when hospitals counted 37 births.

As questions mounted about whether to allow more women to be charged, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, went on the offensive, challenging a health advocate who had addressed the committee.

She had expressed an “opinion,” he said.

“I heard you give me a narrative,” Tate said. “Are there any numbers?”

It sounds like a bold question — until the answer is, well, yes. And at a time, three months into the session, when a bill’s sponsor might be expected to have these facts close at hand.

Tennessee is on pace for the 14th year in a row of more drug-dependent births. In the last six months of 2014, after prosecutions began, the state counted 57 Tennessee women who left the state to give birth to a drug-dependent newborn. And meth, statewide, has actually been sending fewer children into state custody in recent years.

Pregnant, meth-cooking woman gets 12 years in prison

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has sentenced a woman to 12 years and seven months in prison because she was eight-months pregnant while helping cook and sample methamphetamine.

The lawyer for 26-year-old Lacey Weld of Dandridge says he plans to appeal because U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan opted to add prison time for putting a minor — Weld’s unborn child — at “substantial risk” while making the drugs.

Varlan ruled that the drug use “manifested itself” in actual harm after the child’s birth.

Varlan handed down the sentence Tuesday. Defense attorney John Eldridge told the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1mgNuny ) it appears to be the first time a judge has added prison time in such a circumstance.

Eldridge says the guidelines speak only to a child, not mention a fetus.

TBI arrests 19 in Cumberland County meth bust — including Crossville police officer and city employee

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
COOKEVILLE – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has obtained indictments for 19 people, including a city worker and a police officer in Crossville, following a 14-month drug investigation.

TBI Special Agents began the case in March 2013, after receiving information about large quantities of Methamphetamine in the Upper Cumberland region. Investigators developed the case and on Thursday obtained Grand Jury indictments for 19 people, 15 of whom were arrested today on a variety of charges.

· Ronald Eugene Campbell, 52, Crossville

· Jerry Lee Netherton, 42, Crossville

· Scott Edward Ashburn, 34, Crossville

· Michael Porter, 53, Grandview

· Kristi Dawn Hedgecoth, 38, Crossville

· Stanley Eugene Lloyd, Jr. 45, Monterey

· Zack James Scott, 26, Hartsville

· David Wade Smith, 34, Crossville

· Kyle Jay Eldridge, 36, Crossville, Crossville Codes Enforcement Officer

· Billy Joe Norris, 52, Crossville

· Linda Ann Howard, 40, Crossville

· Ronald Dexter Hubbard, Jr., 29, Crossville

· Aaron Gage Campbell, 22, Crossville, Crossville Police Officer

· Kayla Star Hedgecoth, 22, Crossville

· Kenneth Emmerson Wiggins, 19, Crossville

Those arrested today were booked into the Cumberland County Justice Center. In addition to the arrests, investigators seized approximately 10 vehicles, $125,000 in cash, and 75 firearms.

The TBI continues to investigate the operation, along with District Attorney General Randy York, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, Livingston Police Department, White County Sheriff’s Office, Monterey Police Department, Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, Fentress County Sheriff’s Department, and the Pickett County Sheriff’s Department. The Crossville Police Department assisted with today’s arrests.

Report on TBI, county clerks’ meth offender database problems brings warning letter from Shipley

Rep. Tony Shipley, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, has written a letter to court clerks in all 95 counties and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation urging they abide by a state law requiring information on convicted meth offenders be placed in a database, reports WTVF-TV.

The station says some county clerks have never sent the names of meth offenders to the TBI and the TBI, as a result, never put their names on the list – designed to block the offenders from buying pseudoephedrine. Further, it found 777 names of offenders who were reported to the TBI, but still didn’t have their names entered on the list.

“The wholesale disregard for this is shocking to me,” Shipley said.

…The county court clerk in Cannon County did not even know about the nine-year-old law until we asked her.

“Really I don’t remember that we were ever asked to send orders to them for meth convictions,” Lynne Foster said.

Cannon County has a large meth problem, but no one from the county is on the TBI’s Meth Offender Registry – which blocks convicts from buying pseudoephedrine.

“Maybe we didn’t do our job in notifying these people — well, that stops today,” Shipley said.

Shipley’s letter cited the state law and encouraged the TBI and all county clerks to follow the law.

“This is the last time we are going to ask,” the lawmaker added. “We’re asking with a feather. Next year, we will use blunt force trauma and do things like hold your highway funds.”

…(The station’s report) led to finger pointing between the TBI and the private company that is supposed to block purchases.

“If the TBI tells us to block a person, we block them,” said the vice president of Appriss.

Appriss is a private, for-profit company, paid by the drug companies to block inappropriate sales of pseudoephedrine.

The TBI responded, “We gave them 777 names. They’re the ones that allowed them to buy.”

The TBI now admits that the agency never sent driver’s license numbers of convicted offenders to Appriss as required by state law. They started sending the numbers immediately after our questions.

“I am somewhat bemused the TBI admits to making a mistake. You don’t hear that very often,” Shipley said.

He said that his letter puts everyone on notice.

“If you can’t comply with a simple request of the law, then we will supply the encouragement to comply,” Shipley said.

Kyle asks Haslam to veto a Haslam administration bill (pseudoephedrine limits)

News release from state Sen. Jim Kyle:
NASHVILLE – State Sen. Jim Kyle today urged Gov. Bill Haslam to veto legislation limiting the purchase of pseudoephedrine, arguing that the new law doesn’t go far enough to combat the problem.

“I do not believe that the limits set by this piece of legislation are strong enough to make a dent in the problem,” Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said in a letter to the governor.

“This bill is not stringent enough to keep people from producing meth, especially in the ‘shake and bake’ laboratories for which there are weekly accounts of explosions and burns.”

The legislation sets a monthly limit on the purchase of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine of 5.76 grams per month, which equals approximately 48 pills. The limit in the legislation is far less stringent than Gov. Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Safety recommended in January of this year.

The legislation was transmitted to the governor May 5, meaning it needs his signature by May 14 to become law.

Note: It’s HB1574, introduced as a Haslam administration bill with the push for passage led by Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons. The House expanded the limits for non-prescription sales and the Senate, which had originally back the Haslam version, retreated. Haslam has said he is comfortable with the compromise. In other words, it’s pretty doubtful that the Republican governor will heed the Democratic leader’s request.

Legislature adjourns with no override session and contentment with governor-supermajority compromises

The 108th General Assembly shut down permanently Thursday, deciding not to return for a suggested May veto override session after approving two key bills that were not tailored to Gov. Bill Haslam’s wishes.

But Haslam said in a post-adjournment news conference with House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey that he knows of nothing on the list of late bills approved by the Legislature that he would be inclined to veto – including measures on limiting sales of cold medications containing pseudoephedrine and revising the state’s stance on controversial Common Core standards for the state’s public schools.

In both cases, the bills given final approval on adjournment day were compromises and the governor said he could accept them.

Haslam had launched the bill to put limits on sales of drugs containing pseudoephedrine (HB1574), which can be used to make the illegal drug methamphetamine, describing it as a middle-ground approach between law enforcement groups who wanted to have all sales of drugs such as Sudafed and Claritin D by prescription only to block meth making and those who wanted no further restrictions, deeming the legislation as an unwarranted intrusion on law-abiding consumers who suffer from allergies. The opponents included the Consumer Health Products Association, funded by the makers of such medications, which had mounted a state radio advertising campaign against the bill.

The House and Senate had passed conflicting versions of the bill – the Senate basically aligning with Haslam on the amount that can be obtained without a prescription. The House doubled the amount in its version of the bill.

On the last day of the session, the Senate retreated and the bill was passed with twice the level backed by the governor – 28.8 grams per year, or about the amount needed for five months of taking the medication regularly.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who sponsored the bill for Haslam, said that senators accepted the House version as an alternative to “the specter of no bill at all.” He noted the final bill includes a Senate-proposed provision that says persons under age 18 cannot by any medicatio containing pseudoephedrine without a prescription. Haslam said he was “grateful” that the bill was passed as a first step.

On Common Core, Haslam had admantly opposed any changes in the state’s embrace of the standards and the launch of new tests tied with them in the teaching of math and language arts. The bill given final approval Thursday by the Senate (HB1549) was again based on a House-Senate Conference Committee agreement.

It delays the testing tied to Common Core for a year and requires the Department of Education, during the year, to solicit bids for an alternative test. Haslam said there have been “a lot of questions about what is an appropriate assessment tool” and that “all in all” he can accept the Legislature’s action.

Ramsey had earlier raised the possibility of a special veto override session of the General Assembly, bringing the Legislature back next month to consider rejecting any bills that Haslam may veto after adjournment. The 108th General Assembly officially ceases to exist – unless summoned back for a special session by the governor before the November elections – upon adjournment “sine die.” The adjournment resolution approved Thursday calls for a “sine die” adjournment.

There has been no veto override session of the Legislature since Republican Don Sundquist was governor and Democrats held a majority in the General Assembly. Harwell and Ramsey said the decision to abide by the tradition of legislators of the majority party not having a special session to override vetoes by a governor of the same party was based on practical considerations.
“I think members were eager to go back home and not have that hanging over their heads,” said Harwell.

Ramsey said that, as a philosophical matter, he – and perhaps a majority of Republican senators – still believe legislators should have a veto override session just as a balancing of legislative and executive powers. But, practically, he said, “I couldn’t think of anything (among bills passed) where we needed one.” And he said House members seemed opposed to the idea, so it was dropped.

State law also declares that incumbent legislators cannot raise money for their re-election campaigns until the session has adjourned. Ramsey said “that may have entered into it (the decision against a May override session) a little bit.”

House approves pseudoephedrine bill at odds with pending Senate version

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A watered-down version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-meth legislation has been approved by the House.

The measure was approved 80-17 on Wednesday, and is significantly different than the Senate version.

The House bill would set an annual cap of 150 days’ worth of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without a prescription.

Haslam’s original proposal would have established a monthly limit of 2.4 grams of pseudoephedrine, or a 10-day maximum dose, before requiring a pharmacist to authorize another 10 days’ worth before getting a doctor’s prescription.

Facing resistance over that measure, the governor later removed the pharmacist element, and instead proposed a 4.8-gram month maximum and an annual cap of 14.4 grams. That proposal was adopted in the Senate. The House version sets a 5.8 gram monthly cap and annual limit of 28.8 grams.

Further, from The Chattanooga TFP:

What passed the House today reflected a compromise between Haslam, who advocated a tougher approach, and a group of House members who wanted looser limits, saying they wanted to protect law-abiding constituents with allergies.

Efforts on the floor to amend the bill by putting Haslam’s original proposal back into the bill failed on a 58-37 vote. Many lawmakers oppose any restrictions.

Under the House-passed bill, consumers would be limited to purchasing no more than 5.76 grams or about 48 tablets of pseudoephedrine-based products every 30 days. The annual limit is 28.8 grams per year.

Anything beyond that would require a doctor’s prescription.

Senators are more in tune with Haslam’s original proposal. Their bill calls for 40 tablets of pseudoephedrine a month or 4.8 grams and 120 tablets or 14.4 grams a year.

Law enforcement officials want even tougher approaches. But powerful drug manufacturers have heavily lobbied against the bill and have run ads attacking limits.

If senators pass their own version and both sides refuse to retreat, the measure could end up in a House and Senate conference committee.

House and Senate at odds over amount of non-prescription cold medications in Haslam’s meth bill

While the concept of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to put a limit on non-prescription sales of some cold medications has now been embraced by committees of both the House and Senate, the two chambers are at odds on how stringent the limits should be.

The House version of HB1574, as approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday, would allow Tennesseans to buy twice as much of non-prescription drugs containing pseudoephedrine as the Senate version.

The House would allow 28.4 grams per year before a prescription is required; the Senate 14.4 grams. Haslam’s original proposal was more in line with the Senate version, but Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, acting as the administration’s point man in lobbying the bill, said the governor is now “comfortable” with the House version as well.

The goal, Gibbons said, is to have a reasonable limitation placed on sales of medications that can be used in making illegal meth that can pass both chambers.

Legislators say they have been bombarded with emails and phone calls on the subject constituents, many of them apparently motivated by statewide radio ads and phone banks sponsored by the Consumer Health Products Association. The ads , urging citizens to contact their legislators, specifically oppose proposals to make all products containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only, as many law enforcement officers would prefer, including Knoxville Police Chief David Raush.
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Drug companies spending millions to lobby TN legislature

Drug companies have spent at least $5.9 million — and perhaps as much as $15.2 million — lobbying the Tennessee legislature the past five years, more than doubling the financial firepower of police groups and their allies, reports Chas Sisk.

More than 100 professional lobbyists have been hired since 2009 to press the cases of pharmaceutical makers and their suppliers. Their influence has helped stop legislation that would restrict sales of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine manufacturing.

Drug companies also have contributed at least $637,600 to lawmakers’ campaigns, over and above the millions spent on lobbyists. These donations have placed the drug industry among the top givers to legislative campaigns.

The interests of drug companies are wide-ranging. But a spokeswoman for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which has lobbied the General Assembly and represents many pharmaceutical companies that also have done so, said pseudoephedrine regulation has been among their top issues over the past five years.

…Hard figures on lobbying are difficult to come by in Tennessee. State law requires companies and organizations that hire lobbyists only to report their spending with ranges, not exact dollars. But a Tennessean analysis of lobbying records has found that 35 pharmaceutical companies, two of their major suppliers and three trade associations have hired 107 individual lobbyists since 2009. These companies have spent between $5.9 million and $15.2 million.

And those figures may not include spending that does not relate directly to contacting state lawmakers, such as public relations and lobbying local officials.

By comparison, law enforcement groups, organizations representing local governments and others have spent between $2.8 million and $6 million. Records show this broad coalition has hired only 23 lobbyists, often to work on issues unrelated to methamphetamine production.

The mismatch in resources has been a factor in keeping more restrictions on pseudoephedrine at bay.

“I would say they certainly have had an impact,” said Martin Police Chief David Moore, president of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. “Certainly, we don’t have PR firms working for us.”

TN’s 2012 pseudoephedrine law working? Comptroller not sure

The state comptroller’s office has issued a new report, as mandated by the Legislature, on the effectiveness of a state law setting up a system (NPLEx) designed to curb sales of cold medications that can be used in making meth – without requiring that such sales be by prescription only.

The results in a word, to quote a press release (reproduced below): “inconclusive.”

The full report (in pdf) is HERE. Excerpt of the “key points:”

 The illicit production of methamphetamine (meth) remains a serious public health, safety, and fiscal issue in Tennessee.

 Meth production in Tennessee remains at high levels. Between 2008 and 2012, Tennessee and Missouri reported the two highest numbers of meth lab incidents in the nation.

 In 2013, a number of Tennessee local governments considered, and 18 have passed, local ordinances to require a healthcare provider prescription to purchase meth pharmacy precursors – primarily the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine – at pharmacies within their jurisdictions. In December 2013, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion, which holds that the ordinances violate state law.

 The impact of precursor control policies is inconclusive. Analysis of meth lab incident data and precursor control policies by state does not show a conclusive relationship between specific precursor control policies and the number of reported meth lab incidents. Isolating the impact of a particular precursor control policy is more difficult as states continue to increase the number of precursor control policies in effect.

 There does not appear to be a consistent trend in meth lab incidents between 2010 and 2012 among high meth production states with electronic tracking.

 The number of meth lab incidents in Tennessee since the implementation of the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) in January 2012 has not decreased substantially and remains at high levels. (NPLEx is a real-time, stop-sale meth pharmacy precursor electronic tracking system. It is employed statewide in 29 states including Tennessee and in some pharmacies in other states.)

 Pharmacy precursor purchases in Tennessee for the first three quarters of 2013 were 10 percent lower compared to 2012. Estimated sales declined about two percent from 2011 to 2012 following the implementation of NPLEx. Blocked purchases as a percentage of all purchase attempts remained low – two percent in 2012.

 For the two states with prescription-only statutes, meth lab incidents in 2012 in Oregon remained at low levels and in Mississippi continued to decline. Meth lab incidents in some other nearby states have followed similar trends.

 As of July 2013, 70 local jurisdictions in 26 Missouri counties had passed prescription-only ordinances.

Most ordinances were in effect by the end of 2011. The number of statewide lab incidents in Missouri remained at about 2,000 per year from 2010 through 2012. The number of reported meth lab incidents decreased in 16 of the 26 counties and increased or remained about the same in the remaining 10.

Rigorous statistical studies of the effectiveness of Missouri’s local ordinances are not currently available.

 Sufficient data is not yet available to assess the impact of local prescription-only ordinances in Tennessee. However, the Winchester Police Chief has noted a decline in meth lab incidents, as well as a decline in smurfing and associated crimes, since the municipal ordinances in Franklin County became effective in June 2013.

 Federal funding to support local meth enforcement and required lab cleanup remains uncertain.

 Two “meth-resistant” pseudoephedrine products – Nexafed and Zephrex-D – are now available in many pharmacies nationwide.
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